On a dark winter’s night have your heart warmed by an trip down memory lane revived with fabulous songs that make your heart sing. With encouragement by confident leads Karla Hillam and Jeremy Hinman, the audience did a lot of that! Knowing all the words, they had the luxury of a stunning group of live musicians to help turn the volume up. For three nights only, as part of Chapel Off Chapel’s mid-winter Melbourne Cabaret Festival,writer/producer Margaret Fisk AM of JTM Productions presents the newest show in her Legends in Concert series, Practically Perfect- The Music of Julie Andrews before it tours nationally.
It’s 60 minutes of a captivating story told with style, panache and all those songs you love in a highlight tour of the private and professional life of this 20th century singing superstar. This musical biography includes insights into her personal life, failed auditions, one famous rejection, a troubled childhood, awards, talent, and a credentialed post-singing life. You won’t be surprised to find there is more to this picture perfect lady, both on and off the stage. It’s a credit to Fisk’s excellent writing and James Cutler’s sensitive direction and elegant presentation that performers Hillam and Hinman breeze through each chapter, delighting us with whimsy, anecdote, tighgt delivery, and love.
Andrews sang the songs we all grew up to across more than three decades both on screen and stage. Impeccably spoken, with a voice that spanned 4 octaves, her talent, looks, unflappable work ethic and artistry saw her travel across continents to make a successful career.
Top singer Karla Hillman fully embraces the character, moving across the stage with confidence and sparkle. Her voice is something and she hits all the challenging notes of Andrews’ oeuvre. Hinman is smooth and sleek. Dressed in black-and-white, he is cool, calm and the foil to Andrews’ dramatic high and low points, dance tapping the audience into the storyline. They perform beautifully together, moving in and out of proximity, dancing as one, and generally captivating the crowd. The show has a seamless flow and chronologically covers Andrews’ story.
A face known to millions through her stage, film, and television career, Andrews was Maria von Trapp, spinning on a hilltop for the titles of 1965 blockbuster film, The Sound Of Music. On Broadway at 19 in The Boyfriend, she went on to be the first stage Eliza Doolittle for 1956’s My Fair Lady. She played leads in musical Camelot and film Thoroughly Modern Millie, another famed role being Nanny in 1964’s Mary Poppins where she performed all her own stunts. Working with future husband, Director Blake Edwards in 1969, she starred in many of his films including as the dual-gendered Victor/Victoria.
The setting on the main Chapel stage is pure cabaret. You walk into a space enveloped by black curtains with ample round tables on the floor. A glittering electric blue starry night sky is Brooke Van Earden’s backlights the supporting four-piece ensemble, Le Jazz Hot Band. In keeping with Andrew’s Hollywood career, Van Earden’s fantastic palette of hot pink, fire-engine red, orange-yellow, glowing green and electric blue cleverly reminds of the artifice of theatre and acting.
Onstage since 14, performing early in her parents’ double stage act, Andrews worked famed venues The Hippodrome, Broadway, and the West End. She won BAFTA’s,Golden Globes, Grammys, Emmys, and lifetime achievement awards as well as her DBE. A later tragic post-operative loss of vocal range terminated her singing career and the shows tells us what happened next.
Martine Wengrow’s Musical Direction is attuned and vivacious- she is lively and times her notes perfectly to the action. She heads up a rich sounding ensemble of drums, double bass, woodwind and brass, which brings a full-bodied feel to these so famous tunes. You get all the classics – I Could Have Danced All Night, The Hills Are Alive, Edelweiss, A Spoonful Of Sugar, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, My Favourite Things, Do Re Mi, Chim-Chim- Cheree, and Practically Perfect.
Christina Logan-Bell’s costumes are superbly well-suited to the era and genre of each career period. Quality expertise are bang on in these creations, with a signature plum-coloured chiffon off-the-shoulder dress and scene-changing designs which include a vivid red beaded dress for Victor/Victoria, handsome black evening pants and stiff white shirt, with braces, for two Poppins chimney sweeps, and luxuriant white bodice-hugging evening dress with delicate jewelled detailing fit for dancing in. Let’s not forget that umbrella-it’s there in oversized orange which Hillam sings and dances with.
Hillam and Hinman are the talented duo presenting this delightful show which honours this great performing artist. It’s history told through song and dance and is, actually, perfect. Go to hear the songs you so loved, to sing along, and return to the heart of Andrews’ unique craft- the art of magical storytelling.
Sarah Wallace is a dance-qualified Theatre Specialist with a flair for the bold, and non-traditional performance. On the street, or in the box seat, she looks for quality works that push the envelope.
Practically Perfect – The Music of Julie Andrews shows 28 – 30 June, 6:30pm Thursday – Saturday (60 mins) at Chapel Off Chapel. Book tickets here. Accessible seating is available on booking Ph. 8290 7000. Contains adult content.
Disclosure: The Plus Ones were guests of JTM Productions.
Images: Sanjeev Singh.