| Julie Andrews
The chance to work with Christopher Plummer again has Julie Andrews performing at a feverish pace, traveling to more than a dozen cities to host “A Royal Christmas.”
The holiday extravaganza stars Charlotte Church, the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, the Westminster Concert Choir, and a troupe of ballet dancers from Russia, England, Canada, and the Ukraine.
Andrews and Plummer, her costar in the 1966 film The Sound of Music, will take the FleetCenter stage on December 15.
Still, none of the performers can compete in star power with Andrews, 67, an icon since the opening night of My Fair Lady on Broadway 46 years ago. “Christopher is one of the reasons I decided to do this,” says Andrews the other day from Canada, the sunlight still sparkling on her speaking voice. “It has been awhile since I have appeared in 15 cities in 19 days. I thought we could help make things pleasant for each other. We will be the emcees. Each of us will do some readings and narrating with the orchestra. I don’t think we will be dancing, and, of course, I won’t be singing. Charlotte will be there for that.”
Thus does Andrews bring up the loss of her singing voice following surgery during the run of Victor/Victoria on Broadway five years ago. Andrews sued Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York and two surgeons there, and the case was settled out of court; that aspect of the story is off-limits to interviewers.
But Andrews has recently lent public support to voice restoration research in several Boston institutions and to her personal vocal physician, Dr Steven Zeitels, director of the laryngology division at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.
For years, she has spoken optimistically about the possibility of recovering her voice, but now she has arrived at a different place. “Barring a miracle,” she says.
“I probably won’t be singing again, and that breaks my heart. I can’t pretend that it’s easy, but I feel incredibly blessed because I am still so wonderfully busy, still able to develop other aspects of my career.
“I still hope for a miracle, but I think probably the miracle from this new research will happen to somebody else.”
For every singer, the voice is a critical part of personal identity — the singer is a musician whose instrument is his or her body.
Andrews voice became important to her in childhood because it offered an escape from the difficult circumstances of her family life. She was a scrawny little thing, with a wandering eye and bad teeth. Her parents were divorced; her relationship with her alcoholic stepfather was difficult.
And then, one day, her family heard her voice. Little Julie was singing — in the octave above high C. Her mother, a pianist, and her stepfather, a tenor, were astonished.
Her stepfather was her first teacher, but by the time Andrews was 8, he had the good sense to send the child to Leeds every week to train with Lilian Stiles-Allen, a prominent dramatic soprano and oratorio singer, who had been one of the original soloists in Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music.
By 1947, at age 12, she was onstage in London singing the virtuoso Polonaise from Thomas’ Mignon, and there’s a delightful recording to prove it.
“I had one of those freak, child-prodigy voices,” Andrews said.
Andrews worked without mikes in her first show, The Boy Friend in 1954. “It was different by the time of My Fair Lady. We didn’t have Lavaliere mikes, like we have today, and thank God for them — they save enormous amount of wear-and-tear and trauma.
Before that, there was a microphone every three yards or so along the front, and you just did the best you could.”
Andrews believes the vocal problems that surfaced during Victor/Victoria have their origins as far back as My Fair Lady.