Sixty years after playing Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, Julie Andrews will direct the classic musical in Sydney. Dame Julie Andrews sits in an austere office inside the Sydney Opera House. She is, as one would expect of the woman who brought Mary Poppins to life, impeccably groomed, dressed and mannered.
Although Andrews has been answering reporters’ questions all day, she remains as gracious as the dux of a finishing school. And when the topic turns to her reported fondness for salty language, the showbiz legend doesn’t argue; she spots a nifty distraction.
“Woah!” cries Andrews as P&O’s Pacific Pearl steams by, her decks heaving with departing holiday-makers. “Oh, my God, what a beauty!” She asks an assistant to take some pictures. “Look at all the people,” she marvels. “They’re all looking at iconic things.” If only they knew.
At 80, the woman who played Eliza Doolittle in the original (1956) Broadway production of Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady was in Sydney to cast an Opera Australia production of the beloved musical, which she will direct.
Revisiting the play – a faithful re-creation of the original – six decades after she owned the role of Eliza, was not an easy decision, she says. But “it is such a classic piece. It’s a way for people who probably haven’t ever seen My Fair Lady in all its glory to see it again, to learn about it. It is so strong.”
As is the dame herself. After the 2010 death of her husband, director Blake Edwards, and botched throat surgery three years earlier that stole her angelic singing voice, Andrews found solace in writing children’s books with her daughter, Emma.
“It is the most intimate, quiet thing for me and the joy of working with my daughter is a miracle.” (Emma’s father is Andrews’ first husband, Tony Walton. During their marriage, Andrews and Edwards adopted two girls, Amy and Joanna.)
So what’s it like having Mary Poppins for a mum? “What other points of reference could they have had except what Mum did?” she says. “But today it’s all about my grandkids having seen Frozen.”
Then, in a spartan room in the bowels of the Sydney Opera House, Julie Andrews breaks into song. “Let it go, let it go… I love it!” Not as much as we did.
My Fair Lady opens at the Sydney Opera House on August 30 2016. Go to sydneyoperahouse.com for tickets.