Kennedy Center Honors for Julie Andrews
Broadcast on December 26, 2001
Review by John Kenrick
Okay, I'll admit it right up front I cried like a baby watching this tribute. Unlike Julie, I didn't wait for the moving finale. No, I was a goner the second Carol Burnett started singing Sondheim's "Old Friend" and the camera caught Julie singing along. Their friendship reached across a packed opera house, and my heart was right there with the two of them.
Its hard for me to be rational where Julie Andrews is concerned. For my generation of musical lovers, she was our superstar. I was a hopeless fan from the moment my Mom took me to see Mary Poppins. At the tender age of four, I was so overwhelmed that I refused to leave the theater until we sat through "A Spoonful of Sugar" a second time. Two years later, my second grade class went to a screening of The Sound of Music, and I knew I was hooked for life. No other performer gives me the same kick or delights me as she has over the years. So I cheered when she was announced as one of this year's Kennedy Center honorees, and I am delighted to report that her segment of the annual broadcast was "practically perfect" in every department.
Andrews looked sensational in a beaded black gown, with husband Blake Edwards sitting just behind her. During emcee Walter Cronkite's opening remarks, she was the only honoree to receive an ovation. She sat between Jack Nicholson and Luciano Pavarotti, beaming supportively during their respective tributes. President Bush clearly looked bored out of his wits by most of the show, but visibly perked up when a tribute to pianist Van Cliburn included a choral salute to Texas. The cameras did not capture Bush's reaction to the Andrews tribute, but it hardly mattered by the time Julie's turn came, the stellar audience was in full love fest mode.
Longtime "chum" Carol Burnett who is long overdue a Kennedy Center medal of her own set the tone with some warm recollections of their 40 year relationship. She certainly hit the nail on the head when she said that no other songstress had given the world so many sing alongs! Burnett's only mistake was in saying that Andrews sarcastically thanked Jack Warner during her her Oscar speech. (By refusing to cast her in the screen version of My Fair Lady, he had inadvertently made her Mary Poppins win possible!) Fact is, that comment was made during her Golden Globe speech. But that's a minor point the genuine affection these two ladies share had the bejeweled and tuxedoed audience on its feet.
A series of nifty film clips included Julie singing for King George VI, and bits of her performances in My Fair Lady and Camelot. Not surprisingly, the audience saved its biggest applause for moments from Mary Poppins and Sound of Music images that have become a lasting part of our popular culture.
The live mini-concert that followed was a fan-pleasing parade of some of the best young talent on Broadway today. Patrick Wilson sang a soaring "On the Street Where You Live." and Kristin Chenoweth had a blast turning "Spoonful of Sugar" into a soprano showpiece. I loved the way she prefaced her final death-defying trill by saying, "Mary Poppins would call this cheeky, but I'm going to do it anyway!"
When Robert Goulet came out to serenade his old Camelot co-star with "If Ever I Would Leave You," he delivered his trademark "money notes" with such surprising power that one could almost overlook his ghastly Vegas arrangement. Audra MacDonald sang a delicious "I Could Have Danced All Night" (what a sensational Liza she would make in the upcoming NY revival!) and Jeremy Irons (who has the strangest way of saying "Damn!" I've ever heard) moved Andrews to tears with a sensitive version of "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face." As an inevitable closer, Rebecca Luker delivered a soaring "Sound of Music," with the other soloists and a massive chorus joining in for the final verse. In light of Andrews' recent vocal problems, Oscar Hammerstein II's "and I'll sing once more" had heart-tugging significance.
Small wonder that Julie was pushing aside the tears, with Jack Nicholson gallantly giving her a handkerchief. But Julie's music hall training shone through, and she promptly cracked up the folks on stage by pretending to wildly blow her nose.
The Kennedy Center Honors usually do a fine job with their Broadway segments (remember their sensational tribute to Kander and Ebb?), but I felt they really outdid themselves this time around. It couldn't happen to a brighter or more beloved star than Julie Andrews. "Sing once more?" Thanks to her films, Julie will sing for many decades to come. Hey, there may be some super-cali-fragi-listic hope for the future after all!
Note: Metropolitan Opera diva Renee Fleming finished the show with a gorgeous rendition of "Take Care of This House" from Bernstein and Lerner's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It is nice to see that when America feels endangered, it still turns to the great showtune writers to express its deepest sentiments. That's why Berlin's "God Bless America" and Kander and Ebb's "New York, New York" have become more popular than ever in the wake of September 11th. It seems the "Broadway way" of singing things is still relevant. (Thank heaven!)