Julie Andrews’ Kennedy Center Honor

The first time I watched the Kennedy Center Honors was in December 2001. I’d heard of the prestigious honor but had never actually tuned into the telecast. When it was announced that Julie Andrews would be an honoree, I decided it was about time I checked out the evening, hosted by Walter Cronkite. It’s an evening of career testimonials with some sort of performance in recognition of the honoree’s achievements, and usually there is at least one representative from the world of theatre. Other honorees that particular year included Van Cliburn, Quincy Jones, Jack Nicholson and Luciano Pavarotti.

Andrews’ tribute was presented by her best friend Carol Burnett who spoke lovingly of the star, her career and even sang a few bars of Sondheim’s “Old Friend” (the camera cut to Andrews mouthing the lyrics with her). The retrospective included clips of Andrews as a child prodigy, singing for the royal family as well as clips from her various Broadway and film musicals including My Fair Lady, Camelot, Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and Victor/Victoria. One correction to Ms. Burnett’s anecdote: Julie Andrews thanked Jack L. Warner at the Golden Globes. She was less cheeky in her Oscar acceptance speech.


The performance portion was tremendous. Patrick Wilson sang “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady, Kristin Chenoweth amped up the coloratura for “A Spoonful of Sugar” from Mary Poppins and then Robert Goulet sang “If Ever I Would Leave You” to his former Camelot co-star. Audra McDonald sang a pristine “I Could Have Danced All Night” while Jeremy Irons sang “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” The segment’s finale was provided by Rebecca Luker singing “The Sound of Music,” who was joined by the others as well as a chorus for the obligatory big finish. The clip here is missing the second half of Audra’s song and the first part of “The Sound of Music” but it is still a remarkable musical theatre medley.


At the end of the evening, Renee Fleming delivered a stunning rendition of “Take Care of This House” from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in remembrance of the recent 9/11 attacks. My VHS has long since gone missing so I’ve not had the chance to revisit this particular performance since I discovered the lost Bernstein-Lerner score. If anybody might have it, I would love to see it again!

"The Happy Time" – An Appreciation

I’m not sure why I didn’t delve into The Happy Time around the time I was first discovering Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Woman of the Year and Chicago. John Kander and Fred Ebb made an indelible mark on Broadway, with a collaboration that spanned almost 40 years, producing some of the most respected musicals this side of the 20th century. Somehow when I was touching on the hits, I overlooked this 1968 gem.

To be honest, The Happy Time isn’t a great musical. It suffers from (what else?) a weak libretto by N. Richard Nash that’s very loosely adapted from Samuel Taylor’s play. But Kander and Ebb wrote a score that is very much unlike any other they wrote. Their musical scores were usually edgier and grittier than most, delving into darker cynicism shaped by directorial concept. However, this one has a romanticism and lightness that if a far cry from a seedy Berlin nightclub, a Windy City or South American jail cell or an ice skating rink.

The story concerns a jet-setting, prodigal son photographer who returns to his French-Canadian hometown St. Pierre to reconnect with his family, turning their lives upside down. His curmudgeonly father continues to criticize – when not looking at his “dirty pictures,” while his nephew worships him. Meanwhile, he reconnects with a former love, who has grown into a practical, focus (read: grownup) schoolteacher.

The musical was produced by that Abominable Showman David Merrick and directed and choreographed by Gower Champion, who won Tonys for both assignments. Robert Goulet, who won his Best Actor Tony for his work here, starred alongside David Wayne and newcomer Michael Rupert. Julie Gregg was Goulet’s love interest and old pros George S. Irving and Charles Durning played Goulet’s brothers. The production opened at the Broadway Theatre on January 28, 1968 to decidedly mixed reviews. Many found favor with the actors, but great fault with the script. It closed after 286 performances and bears the distinction of being the first musical to lose a million dollar investment.

However, the show, though mired in relative obscurity, has found a new life in recent years. Goodspeed Opera House showcased the first revisal in 1980. A production at the Niagara University Theatre in 2002 enlisted Kander and Ebb to help further revise the book and score, restoring cut scenes and songs. The composing team declared this the definitive performance version of the show and was used in the 2007 Musicals in Mufti concert and the 2008 Signature Theatre revival in Virginia.

RCA recorded the original cast album which showcases what was so wonderful about the original production: its music and lyrics. Goulet gets the choicest material, notably the lilting title song that opens the show and the act two opener “Walking Among My Yesterdays,” the most beautiful song about nostalgia I have ever heard. Wayne charms with “The Life of the Party” and Rupert makes an auspicious Broadway debut with the charming “Please Stay” and the rousing “Without Me.” All three score with the eleven o’clock number “A Certain Girl,” which to my ear is about as close to Jerry Herman territory you’re likely to find Kander and Ebb. For those who are wondering, Goulet is at a vocal peak here; his confident and assured baritone ringing out quite clearly with none of the Vegas stylings for which he later became quite notorious.

Now, I’m not saying that The Happy Time is their best score, but it certainly ranks as my personal favorite. This original Broadway cast album gets more airplay than any other Kander & Ebb score. A little caveat: here’s a clip from the 1968 Tony Awards. Goulet sings the title song, then joins Wayne and Rupert on “A Certain Girl.” Ohhh, for the days when Tony performances lasted eight minutes… Enjoy.


Robert Goulet (1933-2007)

There was a little voice in my mind telling me, “You must go back. You must. You’ve got to see this.” The occasion? Robert Goulet was stepping into the leading role of Georges in La Cage Aux Folles, replacing a fired Daniel Davis in a rather public melee over backstage behavior and nonsense, of which I’m not entirely sure of the truth.

Anyway, the first time I saw the revival happened to be the first Tuesday back after the firing and the understudy, John Hillner, went on and was quite excellent. However, prior to the start of the performance, none other than Mr. Goulet himself exited into the theatre via the side door and proceeded to the rear of the house. And let it be known I said “Oh my God, it’s Robert Goulet!” loud enough to be heard by the actor. I settled in for a phenomenal performance of the show, one that I thought was better than its detractors said, with some of the most joyous choreography to ever stop a show. Just an enjoyable time – and the first time I exited a theatre among people humming the songs. I’ve heard of that notion, but I’d never actually witnessed it before, it was quite a pleasant novelty.

Anyway, I did get back to La Cage for its final performance in June ’05, since it didn’t have the run nor press it deserved it closed within three weeks of winning the Best Revival Tony. All seats were going for the 1983 prices in an effort to fill the theatre for the final weeks of the run, and I jumped at the opportunity mostly because I wanted to say that I saw Robert Goulet live on Broadway. My reasoning being “Who knows if he’ll ever tread these boards again?”

And sadly enough, I was right. The world lost one of the most virile baritones to grace the Broadway stage in the history of recorded musical theatre. His performance as Lancelot in the original Camelot opposite Richard Burton and Julie Andrews is one for the ages, and his original cast performance of “If Ever I Would Leave You” remains and will likely always remain, the most definitive rendition of that soaring ballad.

From his auspicious debut, it took till 1968 when he starred in the Kander and Ebb adaptation of The Happy Time for him to make a return to Broadway, this time winning a Tony award for his performance as Jacques Bonnard opposite David Wayne and a young Michael Rupert.

When I learned that Mr. Goulet had died, this was the album I played. Though I have Camelot, and also the LP’s of his TV musicals Brigadoon, Carousel and Kiss Me Kate, I’ve always felt that this album showed him at the peak of his musical career, before he became a pop culture joke, though a good sport and one he loved to perpetuate. (His cameo on The Simpsons singing ‘Jingle Bells, Batman smells” and his recent commercials come to mind). His voice rings out clarion on such gorgeous melodies, possibly the most beautiful Kander ever composed, as the title song and especially “Walking Among My Yesterdays” and “I Don’t Remember You.”

Mr. Goulet may not have been what one would consider ideal casting for a middle-aged homosexual in St. Tropez (again, Hepburn as Chanel?), but his professionalism and his ease with comic lines were able to help him get through the show without me ever once question his casting. And when he sang – oh that voice could still fill a theatre and I bet without a microphone at that (take that, overamplification). He performed both “Song on the Sand” and “Look Over There” with such voice and charisma, one wishes they had recorded a cast album when he joined the show.

I am so glad I trusted my instincts and decided to go, since I got to see one of the last of the Golden Age legends perform in a book musical on Broadway. Trust me kids, if the chance ever comes up to see a legend in action, don’t take it for granted. Just go, regardless of the cost, it’ll be something you can proudly tell people in later years. There’s nothing quite like being in the presence of a star.