An Evening with Julie Andrews, O2 Arena, London

2.00

Reviewed by Michael Coveney

The onstage band of the Royal Philharmonic strikes up "The Sound of Music", and there, projected on a screen, is Julie Andrews in the film, rushing over the brow of the hill... and then she steps on the stage.

The entrance brought 14,000 people to their feet and she hadn't sung a note. She looked great in a gold lamé, puffy-sleeved ball-gown and chestnut crop, still sexy, in a wholesome way, in her 75th year. The evening, is, she says, in part a celebration of Rodgers and Hammerstein. And to prove how great they are, she devotes the second half to a toe-curling performance, which she narrates, of one of her children's books, Simeon's Gift. It's set to tunes of unmitigated awfulness.

If I'd paid for my ticket, I would have been incensed. Up to the interval, there was a faint pleasure in seeing how her voice, damaged by a throat operation to remove nodules from her vocal cords, would brush up against some of her greatest hits. But we had nothing from The Boy Friend, My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins, or Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Her once-upon-a-time four octaves are now reduced to a range of about six notes in a lower mezzo register, and she scores best in "This Nearly Was Mine" from South Pacific. The first act closed with the audience joining with Julie and her support singers in "Do Re Mi". So far, so average. Then: oh dear, "Simeon's Gift". Julie cowers decorously on the sidelines while her support quintet acts out the piece in corny costumes, labouring under the misapprehension that we are interested.

As Julie signs off with "Edelweiss", the projectionist flashes up another photograph of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Too late! We applaud them, sorry beyond measure that they've tuned out in the interval. But the audience greets their beloved star once again, she smiles and waves back, and the warmth is engulfing.

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