Victor/Victoria and the Return of Julie Andrews to Broadway
Closing Night ends its first season with a look at one of the most dramatic shows to have played the Marquis Theater, both onstage and off. Here is the transcript of that episode and sources used...
Thirteen years after Victor/Victoria opened in cinemas nationwide, Julie Andrews was back on Broadway in a stage version of the movie, playing a female singer pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. It was one of the most highly anticipated shows to open in the 1995-96 season. The score featured songs from the movie as well as new music by Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse. And just like the movie, this production was written and directed by Andrews’ husband, Blake Edwards. When Victor/Victoria opened at the Marquis Theatre, it ended a hiatus of 33 years since Andrews’ last appearance on Broadway.
“The day we opened I got very tearful, and again I said to Blake, “You know I don't know why, but I'm feeling terribly nervous and tearful.” And he looked at me and he said, “Well, did you expect to feel anything else tonight?” Because it was a long time between shows, but the company and the delight of that show—it was a joy.” - Julie Andrews
Andrews was part of a large cast of 32 performers, made up of other Broadway veterans like Tony Roberts, Rachel York, and Gregory Jbara. And in the ensemble was the yet-to-be Tony Award winning director and choreographer, Casey Nicholaw, as well as Mark Hoebee and Darren Lee:
“It was really thrilling to be part of that show. It was such an amazingly talented group of people and Julie was just a delight. At the same time, by then I had been in a few other things and so I knew that it wasn't amazing. I also knew that this show as a vehicle for Julie Andrews is more idealistic when it was closer to when she did the movie.”
Victor/Victoria certainly faced its fair share of setbacks leading up to and during its time on Broadway. There were changes to the creative team and the untimely death of the composer and one of the orchestrators. There were the critical reviews and a controversy surrounding Tony nominations as well as infighting and backstage squabbles that cast a shadow over the entire run of the musical. And then of course there were Andrews’ health issues that led to her departure from the show.
Still, Victor/Victoria marked a notable comeback for one of the most respected and admired performers of all time. And in this episode we’ll explore how this show went from movie musical to Broadway musical, and once again highlight how even the most talented creatives and performers can struggle to produce magic on the Broadway stage.
Closing Night is a theater history podcast about famous and forgotten Broadway shows that closed too soon, hosted and produced by New York actor Patrick Oliver Jones. This first season highlights some of the shows that have come and gone from one of Broadway’s youngest venues: the Marquis Theatre. And this is the episode transcript all about Victor/Victoria and its journey to Broadway. It has only been slightly edited for this format. You can listen to the full episode here or on your favorite podcast app:
THE 1982 MOVIE
Julie Andrews was known for her enchanting and family friendly performances in movies like Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, but in the 1970s and 80s, she began to broaden her choices in character roles. There were burlesque stripteases, Hitchcock thrillers, topless scenes, and in 1982 she starred in Victor/Victoria, a movie musical that explored cross-dressing, drag performance, and even homosexuality, though not explicitly. It was written and directed by famed filmmaker Blake Edwards, and was based on a 1933 German film called Viktor und Viktoria. The story centered on a struggling soprano who finds success by masquerading as a man playing a female impersonator in 1930s Paris.
“I think really it's just a fabulous role and I mean I'd be a fool to stay in a Mary Poppins or Sound of Music image all my life. I think people would be very bored with it, and I certainly would. And since I'm an actress, I'm really delighted to have different and varied roles to play and Victor/Victoria is just a wonderful thing for any actress." - Julie Andrews
Andrews co-star, Robert Preston, was best known as the lovable scam artist Harold Hill in both the stage and screen versions of The Music Man. But for Victor/Victoria, he was playing a gay, middle-aged man who gets fired from his nightclub job. Both Andrews and Preston were nominated for Oscars, along with Edwards for Best Adapted Screenplay. But out of seven total nominations, the only Academy Award went to the venerable composer Henry Mancini and lyricist Leslie Bricusse for Best Score, which only took them three weeks to write. According to the composer himself, the film “was one of the most perfect pictures [he’d] ever done,” and was one that he could watch again and again. But even though Mancini and critics enjoyed Victor/Victoria, its box office was rather modest and didn’t even double its $15 million budget. Nonetheless, Blake Edwards saw a future for this show.
“And when I originally did the film, I decided almost immediately that it was a good stage vehicle. And I kept obsessing on that all the time, you know sooner or later I've got to do this…but the bottom line is that I needed to do it for me, and I needed to do it for Julie too.” - Blake Edwards
At one point, Andrews and Preston were asked to reprise their respective roles for the stage, but Preston pulled out saying there was no way the musical could be profitable. But an actual stage musical did eventually begin to take shape years later, with the hope of starting rehearsals in early 1994.
Lyricist Leslie Bricusse was a veteran at crafting stage musicals. However, Edwards had never directed or written for Broadway, same goes for Henry Mancini, who had never composed music the stage. So in late 1993, they wanted to test out some of the material they’d written by putting on a rather elaborate presentation at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.
“The demonstration that we gave at the Waldorf showed us what we had, and what we had was not good enough, we realized. So we upped it a little bit, and then we got into rehearsals and then we upped it a little bit more. And that I suppose is the nature of a Broadway show.” - Julie Andrews
And of course every Broadway show needs money. And it was surprising for me to learn that raising money for this musical proved more difficult than I would’ve imagined. One investor even backed out, causing a delay in the show’s opening by six months and canceling its pre-Broadway run in Boston. And so Edwards had to invest his own money into the $8.5 million production. In fact, as collateral to the remaining investors, Andrews committed to the show for one year, and if it didn’t recoup in that time, then she’d stay another 6 months. But while she may have been the main attraction, there was a stellar cast around her as well.
Taking on the role of Carroll Todd (played by Robert Preston in the movie) was longtime Broadway actor Tony Roberts. He’d had been in the original productions of Barefoot in the Park, Promises, Promises and Sugar. Prolific screen actor Michael Nouri portrayed James Garner’s character from the film, King Marchand, and giving her best ditzy gangster girlfriend was Rachel York, who had performed in Les Misérables and City of Angels. She talked with CBS about her first encounter with Henry Mancini during the auditions:
“I was fiddling around the piano, and the only the only song that I can really play is ‘Moon River’ so I started playing that. And he looks up at a Blake and he says, ‘Hire her, she's good. I like this girl.’ You know, he was just great, he was so wonderful.”
One of the most significant setbacks for Victor/Victoria came in early 1994 with Mancini's sudden diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He was given just months to live, yet Mancini continued to work on his first Broadway musical. And by the time of his passing in June of that year, he had written 25 new songs for the show. Eventually, Bricusse would ask Frank Wildhorn to come in and work on the score. Although, to be precise, Wildhorn was actually coming back to the show.
“At first before the show opened, they had trouble getting rights to the Henry Mancini music, so Frank Wildhorn wrote an entirely new score, that none of the movie music was in. And when the show was first cast, there was a big switch. Originally, it was Michael Smuin, I think, was choreographer. And then they cast the show, and then something happened, and then Rob Marshall came on and they recast the show. And that's when I joined in the new cast. But originally they were going to go into rehearsal in New York with none of the film music, because they couldn't get the rights. Then they got the rights. And it became this hybrid version where Frank was writing some new stuff, and we still had ‘Le Jazz Hot’ and other things from the movie.” - Mark Hoebee (a swing and dance captain, he was also featured in the episode on Nick & Nora)
But their goal wasn’t to just recreate the movie. Mancini and Bricusse wrote new numbers, and Wildhorn was adapting some of Mancini’s unfinished ideas into songs. And what’s interesting is that when Wildhorn would finish these new compositions, he would then record demo versions so that the creatives could hear them—okay, not so unusual—except of course that it was none other than Linda Eder (his wife at the time, see photo) who would sing these songs on the demo that were then be sung by Julie Andrews. (Oh, to have been in that room!) Well, Edwards was also adapting his screenplay for the stage and trying to incorporate new ideas he didn’t put into the movie.
“Blake opened it up for the theater and he wished very much, the one thing we did do that he was happy about was … Norma, the wonderful part … he wrote in the show on Broadway, he wrote in that she asked me to dance. And because I was in front of the James Garner character, I decided to try to do it and the muddle of who leads who, when I'm really a girl and I'm trying to be a guy and all of that. And she keeps trying to touch me in slightly unmentionable places, and I'm just avoiding it by a second. And he wished he'd been able to do that in this film and he regretted that he hadn't thought of it until later.” - Julie Andrews
But as you can imagine there were just as many subtractions to the musical as there were additions. And once rehearsals began in New York at the end of March 1995, Andrews would use a body mic to save her voice and to keep from over-singing, especially since songs and scenes were constantly changing or being cut all together. That’s why these producers and creatives, unlike Nick & Nora, made sure that out-of-town tryouts were part of the process.
ON THE ROAD
The original plan for Victor/Victoria was to have a pre-broadway run in Boston, but once that was canceled due to lack of funding, the producers shored up the finances and lined up Minneapolis and Chicago to precede the show’s opening at the Marquis Theatre in the fall of 1995. However, rehearsals in New York leading up the Minneapolis premiere were rather frantic and not as productive as they could’ve been.
“The challenge was that Blake didn't know or understand the process of rehearsing a show and then running it in the studio, so that you're routining it. He was used to getting it right on film and putting that in the can, and then moving on. You never have to look at it again until you're editing it all together. So that was the challenge.” - Mark Hoebee
And when they left the rehearsal studio for Minneapolis, the show wasn't done. That meant that as they were teching the show—which took a long time cause the set kept breaking down—they were also trying to finish the show. So that first preview in June of 1995, lasted more than three and half hours, because there was a lot of extraneous material and they’d never run the show all together. And by opening night, Variety said, “Notwithstanding a solid dramatic — if not musical — performance from Julie Andrews, the show has a long way to go.” So after Minneapolis, the creatives made more changes to tighten the show and rework some numbers. For example, there was an opening number for Andrews called “Victoria’s Variations” that introduced her character.
“And I remember in Chicago, like the third version of that song came in, and we were at the Shubert Theater and called in early one day. And it was one of the few times that I saw Julie not happy. And they played this new ‘Victoria's Variations’ and she just stood up and said, ‘When you write a song that is good enough for me to sing for my return to Broadway, then I'll come back to the theater’ and she left.” - Mark Hoebee
And Andrews definitely had good reason to stand up for herself—she hadn’t been on a Broadway stage in 33 years. So the nerves and expectations were certainly weighing on her. But on a side note, Andrews was to be in good company that Broadway season with Carol Burnett also returning to Broadway after 30 years to star in the play Moon Over Buffalo, and Carol Channing returning after 20 years to reprise her iconic role in Hello Dolly!
But Victor/Victoria was different from those other productions in that the producer, director, writer, and husband of the star were all rolled up into one person, so swift and drastic changes could be made to the show. And so, what wound up happening was “Victoria’s Variations” was cut and they chopped off the first three scenes, and just began the show at the top of scene four with a song called “Paris by Night” sung by Toddy in the Chez Louis nightclub. But it wasn’t just numbers being cut from the show.
“So when we were in Chicago, the same thing started to happen on Victor Victoria as was happening on Nick and Nora--leaks to the press, the show wasn't going well. And so we were all called on the carpet in this room, at I think it was the Drake Hotel, called the Blue Danube Room. And again, I knew by this time not to sit in the front row. I was way, way in the back. And Blake went off, just was screaming bloody murder. Julie wasn't there. And they fired the stage manager and they fired a couple of other people. They put them on flights back to New York, and we were, like, running. The show was running in Chicago. We were like, what is going to happen? I remember leaving that room and somebody got Blake and talked sense into him. And everybody who was fired that day in the Blue Danube Room came back and was on the show.” - Mark Hoebee
Edwards was probably feeling the whole weight of this musical on his shoulders. Nonetheless, he offered his apologies and the show got back on track and finished out Chicago with somewhat hopeful criticism from the Chicago Tribune:
"It's not a classic, it needs work and it suffers some problems in moving from screen to stage, but Victor/Victoria … is a most enjoyable show, and, with a little luck and some creative editing in the next few weeks, it should be well on its way to becoming a solid Broadway hit."
When it comes to movies it can be beneficial to have such a singular figure at the top making final decisions. Whereas theater requires more collaboration and a different approach to both tell the story AND improve it along the way. Choreographer Rob Marshall certainly understood this—he came from the theater—but he wasn’t often allowed to take charge of scenes where Edwards could've used the help. Because even with two out-of-town runs, there was still work to be done on the show as previews began at the Marquis on October 3, 1995. Darren Lee was a dancer and singer in some of the biggest numbers in the show, and he explains their preview process:
“And so it's really interesting when you're in previews, you have very little time to honestly change that much, because you have to tech everything. And sometimes you're doing an old number during the show at night, but then you're rehearsing a new one during the day, but it doesn't go in until they can tech it and all that kind of thing. So they tried to create a new number that we could utilize the same set and the same costumes, but had a different song.”
By the time the show opened on October 25th, Victor/Victoria contained five songs from the original film by Mancini & Bricusse, with six new compositions from Mancini, and three new contributions from Wildhorn. As for Edwards, he kept in many of the iconic lines from the film, but streamlined the plot for the stage musical to allow a quicker and smoother journey to the eagerly anticipated “Le Jazz Hot” number sung by Andrews, who had a total of 10 songs in the show.
In fact, they recorded the opening night performance for a what was to be a rare broadcast of a currently running Broadway show. It was first shown in Japan two months later and was eventually released on DVD in the US. That recording captured a show that had been through many changes on its way to Broadway. And some of those rewrites made sense to a certain degree, but one of the potential pitfalls of any movie turned into a stage musical are the inevitable comparisons to the original, and theater critics were ready to point out those differences, especially The New York Times:
“Mr. Edwards seems not to have been able to rethink his movie in theatrical terms, nor does he appear to understand what those terms are. Victor/Victoria plays almost as if it were a movie photographed in one extended, unyielding long shot. Everything is uninflected, without a sense of pace. The show comes to life as if by accident, and sometimes in spite of the obstacles that are placed in its way.”
Variety magazine even compared the show to previous Marquis Theatre productions Nick & Nora and The Goodbye Girl as well as other film-to-musical transfers that were similarly dead on arrival. There was also no love given to the new Mancini songs or Wildhorns contributions. Then there was the Los Angeles Times, which went so far as to call Victor/Victoria “a case of miscasting the title role.”
“One of the most exciting opening nights that I have ever been to, and the most pressured, and the most wonderful, and the most generous and loving and just—you give me an adjective and it'll probably apply.” - Julie Andrews
Aside from the LA Times, there was pretty much universal praise for Andrews and her return to Broadway as well as Rachel York’s very funny performance as Norma Cassidy. So now the job was to maintain these praise-worthy performances. Andrews knew the show’s success was largely dependent on her showing up every night, and for shouldering such a burden she was certainly paid handsomely. She was pulling in a minimum of $50,000 a week as a guarantee against ten per cent of gross revenue, and another five per cent of the show's net profits. So she was heavily invested in a musical that was undoubtedly exhausting with all the singing and dancing onstage and with 13 costume changes that kept her busy backstage. On the Rosie O’Donnell Show, Andrews spoke about the regimen she used to maintain herself both physically and vocally:
“I do about 45 minutes of stretching and some aerobics and some ballet bar, and you know all the things that I know work for me. And then I do about 45 minutes of singing practice every day. But by the time you've done that, and you've gotten to the theater and put on your makeup, I mean the days go very fast.”
She wouldn’t even go out or socialize much at all and joked about how she really lived like a nun. But even with this daily routine, health issues began to crop up a few months into the run. One Saturday night in mid-January 1996, her understudy Anne Runolfsson stepped in during the second act as Julie came down with the flu, keeping her sidelined for a week. Then toward the end of February, Andrews was rushed to the hospital for an emergency gall bladder removal. And the corresponding declines in revenue and audience attendance for both of those absences, underscored the obvious fact that she was the heart of the show.
But those who stuck around for Andrews understudy still got to see great performances from Runolfsson as well as Rachel York, who was delivering a star turn as the blonde bimbo mistress. The Chicago Tribune said that if they'd let her, York “would probably steal the show.” In fact, York won the Drama Desk Award in May for Outstanding Featured Actress, and Andrews took home the trophy for Leading Actress.
But it was the Tony Awards that just wanted to spice things up, I guess. Shows that would go on to be recognized with Drama Desk nominations and awards were noticeably absent from the Tony list—namely Victor/Victoria received only one single nomination, and that went to Julie Andrews for Best Actress. Fellow cast member Darren Lee recalls the general sentiment of the industry toward Victor/Victoria.
“There was this feeling like it's just not doing her justice. It compromised the show's ability to be able to be seen for its actual value. The choreography in that show was absolutely gorgeous. The scenery was gorgeous, the costumes were fantastic. So there were absolutely wonderful, wonderful technical and design elements that were all overlooked. I think because it was basically this general feeling of well, it shouldn't be being done.” - Darren Lee
As the New York Times put it: the 14-person Tony nominating committee seemed to be “declaring war on the kind of musical Victor/Victoria represents—unadventurous remakes of popular motion pictures.” Now, I must point out that this was the same Broadway season that introduced us to Rent and Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk, which both led the way in total nominations. The other two Best Musical nominees were also not based on movies, but they had actually closed relatively soon after opening and well before the Tony voting would begin. Still, looking back we can see that 1996 was a pivotal year in the kind of shows Broadway would produce in the years to come. But at that time, it was hard to recognize this shift, and so the lack of nominations for the traditional musicals— Victor/Victoria, Big, and State Fair—felt like a rebuke of what made Broadway Broadway.
For Andrews, this was her third nomination for an award she had never won. Yeah, Julie Andrews has never won a Tony Award. So what should have been a celebratory occasion was instead seen as a disregard for the show’s entire company. And on May 8, 1996, just two days after the Tony nominations had been announced, the Broadway community, New York City news stations, and the national syndicated entertainment shows had been tipped off and were breathlessly awaiting what was going to be said at the curtain speech after that afternoon's matinee performance of Victor/Victoria. Here is what Julie Andrews said to that audience…
“The 1996 Tony Award nominations were announced on Monday, and I applaud all my fellow nominees, and I send them many, many congratulations. However, flattered as I am and honored to be also nominated, I have to say how deeply sad I am to be the only nominee in this extraordinary company. Victor/Victoria is a collaboration between designers, choreographer, director, cast, and crew—an extremely happy and successful collaboration—which makes it especially sad that so many of my colleagues have been ignored by this year's nominating process. I could not have done this alone. I have searched my conscience and my heart, and I find that sadly I cannot accept this nomination, and I prefer instead to stand with the egregiously overlooked.”
“It was an unbelievably moving moment. I remember standing in the audience and watching that and watching her deliver that speech, and the company was both exuberant and crying at the same time, because we all wanted her to get that award. She deserved it, right? She'd worked so hard. She was so good. She carried that show, and she didn't want it. She didn't want it in that way. She didn't need it. She would rather go down in history as part of that family, the matriarch of that company, which she truly was.” - Mark Hoebee
There have been two other Tony nominations refused by actors the past—both in featured categories, because the actors thought they should have been leads. But this was the first time a big star had turned down a Tony nomination. Mind you, she was pretty much a shoe-in to finally win the award, but her refusal set the stage for Donna Murphy to ultimately take home the Leading Actress prize for her performance in that year’s King and I revival. Nathan Lane hosted the 50th Annual Tony Awards that year, where Victor/Victoria did not perform nor did any of its actors attend.
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
While the drama of the Tony Awards was playing out in May of 1996, other awards organizations were more fully recognizing the efforts of the Victor/Victoria cast and crew. The previously mentioned Drama Desk Awards handed out four nominations to the show, with Andrews and York winning. The Outer Critics Circle named seven nominees, as once again Andrews won for Outstanding Actress and the whole show won for Outstanding Musical. And in a show of affection and solidarity, the stagehands at the Marquis Theatre hung a giant replica of the Tony Award medallion by her dressing room door. But not everyone was in lock step with Andrews' stand against the Tonys. Esquire said, “Get over it.” And Time magazine included it as one of the Worst Public Performances of 1996:
“Not saying ‘thank you’ is one of our least favorite things. Her sincerity would have played out a little better if somebody hadn't tipped off the TV news crews, who came rushing into the theatre 30 minutes before curtain.”
But the public obviously loved all the drama. The brouhaha didn’t hurt ticket sales, which jumped 30 percent after her refusal announcement as well as after the Tony ceremony aired in June. But what did hurt audience attendance was Andrews absence from the show, which was getting more and more frequent. In November, Julie Andrews took a two-week break from Victor/Victoria due to pneumonia. By the year's end, her vocal fatigue was so pronounced that it was announced that Liza Minnelli would fill in for a month to give Andrews a break. Liza acknowledged to Playbill that Andrews would have injured herself and done some long-range damage if she continued. “Julie would do the same for me, I know she would.”
However, the story goes that as they rehearsed Liza for 6 weeks, she wasn’t always there for every rehearsal. Some of this was due to prior concert engagements while other absences weren’t planned. And when the big day arrived for her put-in with the whole cast and crew, Liza was a no-show. Turns out, she felt unprepared and unsure of the material, but producer Tony Adams called her up and said that one way or the other she was going in the show Tuesday, cause Andrews’ last show was Sunday. So they rallied everybody back to theater after the Sunday's matinee, rehearsed with Liza all through Sunday night and all day Monday and Tuesday—basically spoon-feeding her the entire show for her opening night.
But she’s a performer through and through, and her fans certainly came out to see her. As the New York Times put it, “It's the rawness as much as the polish that brings her admirers to the Marquis.” And Liza even got to sing a new song that was being put into the show, which had been planned before she was even brought on—a new song with words and music by Leslie Bricusse, called “Who Can I Tell?”
There’s no doubt that Liza can be an amazing performer, and the ensemble was certainly excited to work with yet another legend of the stage, but Darren talks about what is was like dancing with such a larger-than-life performer.
“She's an absolute star. She just exudes this amazing performance energy. Well, to sort of create that performance energy, she kind of absorbs it from all around her. And so off stage and backstage and getting to the stage, it is insane. It's like a whirlwind tornado of like, “Oh, my God, we're never going to make it. How is it possible?” And then she steps out on stage and she is calm as a cucumber and amazing, and everyone like, the ensemble behind her is all, like, frazzled because they just got run over. But, yeah, it's unbelievable. She absorbs it like a tornado and then just goes out there and shines.” - Darren Lee
However, not everyone was so starstruck by Liza, and that tornado of energy wasn’t always welcomed by her co-stars, namely Tony Roberts, who was less than patient with her line struggles and creative harmonies. And there was one show where Tony Roberts had had enough, and in one scene she just stopped talking, walked off stage, and left him hanging. After that, Roberts said, "I'll come back when Julie comes back.” And according to the Chicago Tribune, he called out sick so as to not perform with her. And when he came back, then Liza called out sick, but not before receiving a “standing ovation from the crowd…after reading her doctor’s orders from center stage.” She also called out sick for what was to be her final performance, and The New York Post reported that Minnelli wants to return to the show when Andrews completes her contract in June 1997, but that she wants Roberts out. For the record, though, both denied such a tiff between them ever occurred, so take from that what you want.
Meanwhile, Andrews was having some peaceful time off at her home in Switzerland, taking leisurely walks and getting much-needed rest and relaxation. That was until she retuned to the show in February 1997. By this point Victor/Victoria had only recouped about half of its original $8.5 million capitalization (which meant she would stay with the show a little longer), and now there was a heated lawsuit filed by the show’s producers against nine insurance companies. These insurers were refusing to cover losses totaling more than $1.6 million that incurred during Andrews’ various absences for influenza, gall bladder surgery, and larynx problems. One of the insurance companies contended that insufficient medical history disclosure was the culprit, in other words accusing Andrews of not being honest about her past health problems. However, the legal representative for Victor/Victoria, staunchly defended her by asserting that she did absolutely nothing wrong, and saying they would prove that the insurers owed the money.
As her time with the Broadway production began to wind down, there was a national tour on the horizon with Edwards and the show’s producer asking Andrews to lead that effort. She said ‘no’ at first, but after repeated requests she eventually conceded. There was still the matter of her constant vocal fatigue, however, she was focused on finishing out her return to Broadway as strong as possible. And on Sunday, June 8, 1997, Julie Andrews played Victor/Victoria for the last time.
Two days later, iconic film star Raquel Welch took over the role. But that almost didn’t happen as “creative differences” between Welch and Edwards nearly led to a walkout by the star two weeks before her opening, but they eventually patched things up. And just as Liza got to introduce a new song when she joined the show, Welch would also get a song called "I Guess It's Time," which had been cut from the show before it reached Broadway. As for her performance, though, theater critics were not so kind. Here’s what Variety had to say:
“At best a pleasantly passable singer and at worst a singer who passes over melody, Welch does little to move this tired, star-driven musical beyond its own mediocrity. Long absent from the New York stage, Welch might initially draw old fans and the merely curious, but she’d better do it fast — this show seems to be on its last sequined leg.”
Meanwhile, Andrews was enjoying her rest from the show and was finally able to address her vocal issues. She had gone to her throat specialist who discovered a cyst on her vocal cords—describing it like a blister filled with liquid. He told her that if he didn’t make it right, she would not survive on the road. Andrews described what happened next to Barbara Walters:
“I went in for a routine procedure that I was told would not be threatening to my vocal cords, and since then as you know and everybody's been talking about, I've just been unable to sing...I think to some degree I'm in a form of denial about it, because to not sing with an orchestra, to not be able to communicate through my voice, which I've done all my life and not to be able to phrase lyrics and give people that kind of joy, I think I would be totally devastated. So I am in some kind of denial.
Edwards was asked about his wife’s voice and was famously reported as having said, ”If you heard it, you'd weep. It’s an absolute tragedy.” To which Andrews agreed and felt the devastation of this experience on a deeper level than even she could fully handle. Three months after that Barbara Walters interview, while trying to cope with her inability to sing, she underwent grief therapy at Sierra Tucson, an Arizona rehab clinic noted for treating celebrity clients. A year later, she sued the doctor and hospital that took away her voice, which is certainly one proactive way to deal with that grief. They settled for an undisclosed amount, and she has spoken little on the subject since. But what she has spoken about are the various projects and books that she has worked on since Victor/Victoria, and how she’s simply using her voice in different ways now.
“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” - The Sound of Music
The Broadway production of Victor/Victoria only lasted another month and a half once Welch took over, closing on July 27, 1997 with 25 previews and 734 regular performances. Needless to say, that national tour went on without Andrews. Instead, it starred Tina Tennille of the famous 1970’s group Captain and Tennille. That tour along with several subsequent productions were directed by Mark Hoebee.
As someone who had always considered myself a singer first and actor second, it has been an interesting process to research and put together this episode. Chronicling such an iconic and legendary performer as Julie Andrews in her last stage production and final musical has brought on my own thoughts of what my voice has meant to me and what it has meant to rarely use it these last 4 years. I suppose every actor, dancer, singer has to grapple with who we are outside of the talents we bring to the stage. Just like Andrews, we all have to realize that our identity and value and worth are not just defined by what we do, but rather by who we are and who we strive to be.
You’ll hear more from Mark Hoebee about the national tour in the bonus episode of our full Victor/Victoria interview, along with my conversation with Darren Lee.
Closing Night is a production of WINMI Media with Patrick Oliver Jones as host and executive producer. Dan Delgado is the editor and co-producer, not only for this podcast but also for his own movie podcast as well called The Industry, which I highly recommend. Maria Clara Ribeiro is co-producer. A special thank you to E. Clayton Cornelious for his time and candor in discussing his experiences in bringing Wonderland to the Marquis Theatre. Join us next time as another production makes its way to closing night.
Sources and materials used to create this episode...
CBS This Morning - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1M40hD503So (cast album recording)
Talking about the Broadway version versus movie - https://youtu.be/RaxKaZeMp0g?si=c93pNcuCB2x4up5I
Back on Broadway - https://youtu.be/pAyMVmjyzek?si=CY5MLIHdYeTmyKsW
On Mancini’s last song- https://youtu.be/uUcJSR_h21Y?si=kd1GZkOJAUZWMVpP (4:35)
Tony rejection - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSA_IY2YrBg (full speech)
Barbara Walters - https://youtu.be/gYY9vNkmtSY?si=HIWEQABgDthuVktz
years later - https://youtu.be/8g5FY4WCKYI?si=Gq_EZroNGaWI1_er
husband, Blake Edwards
didn’t know theater lingo and would often say things like “cut!” or “I’d like a closeup” https://youtu.be/ppnvs3GHyL4
Raquel Welch - Victor/Victoria
CLOSING & TOUR