The opening of Episode 23 on March 24th, 1973 was quite a departure from Julie’s earlier shows. In a tribute to the popular Kung Fu films, a group of Karate Black Belts were on the stage, practicing their moves. Meanwhile, in the back we see Julie Andrews, dressed in a simple white pantsuit with a black belt, hands clasped behind her, standing stock still. She probably was advised to do so as well, in order not to get hurt!
Eventually, Julie begins to sing, “Something’s Got to Give.” At certain moments, she does her own Karate moves. A series of shots with the Black Belts, leaping, breaking blocks of wood are shown, sometimes catching them mid-air or mid-move follows. Finally, one fellow takes everyone out. Things are flying around Julie, and it’s difficult to imagine that she shot this scene without breaking into laughter. In the end, the winner takes the prize—Julie--that is until she knocks him out herself!
Of course, this entire show is not about Karate. Ms. Andrews soon introduces her wonderful guests, Donald O’Connor and Harve Presnell, who we are told has flown in from London where he is starring (as Rhett Butler) in the musical version of Gone with the Wind. Unfortunately, this show did not succeed.
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The first half of the show is Julie and Donald O'Connor. They begin with songs about streets and we are taken back to old Broadway and the great musicals of the 1940s. It’s obvious that Julie enjoys working with Donald O’Connor and they make a great musical pair. Watching this, one wishes they had made a film together.
After the opening number, Julie appears dressed in a button gown of old English Music Hall, but it’s an elegant button gown, with a train. She also sports a cap. She and her fellows sing an updated version of the “The Old Kent Road.” (You may recall Shirley Temple sang this song with Arthur Treacher in the film, The Little Princess, though I imagine most British people know it for other reasons.
Donald O’Connor appears onstage next with the eight Tony Charmoli Dancers, singing and dancing “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street (the Little Birdie’s go Tweet, Tweet, Tweet.”) To have something to sing about, Julie walks by them first. She’s dressed in a tight fitting-dress, twirling a handbag and swinging her hips. She appears again at the end, and says ‘hello’ to the guys in a manner it’s difficult not to laugh at. Very cute. The song and dance by O’Connor and fellows is just a classic.
The next musical number takes us to Paris! Julie and Donald are singing “Bonjour Paris,” a song from Funny Face. Musical walkways are used for this number and the dancers join in. From here, we move to New Orleans. It’s a great scene, beginning in darkness and moving to a brightly lit stage, everyone is wearing wonderful costumes with hats, and waving and slapping their tambourines. Julie appears dressed like a saloon singer. There’s a lot of dancing and rhythm, and everyone on stage seems to be having so much fun, it makes you want to jump out of your chair and join them! Wow! What a wonderful set of musical numbers, but it’s not over yet.
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Just before our intermission, we hear some familiar music and out comes Rich Little as Johnny Carson. Even before he says a word, he’s got Johnny down to a “T” and we can’t help loving him. There are great jokes and lots of laughter. “After the commercial we’ll have WWII with the original cast and a surprise ending.” It’s all in the way he says it, and we have to laugh. From there, Rich changes to Jack Parr – that is Jack Parr putting down Rich Little. Whether you remember Jack Parr or not, Rich Little is still funny.
If the entertainment was great for Part one of this show, part two astounds. The music comes up and Julie appears as a vision, playing the girl in various costumes in the art work (this period and artist eludes me now and will have to be filled in later.)--while Harve Presnell sings about “Julie.” It is stunning.
Soon, we see Julie wrapped in yards of plush satin singing, “But Not for Me.” She appears in other costumes with wigs as well (recreating the artwork). In one, she looks like a Jane Austin character. This is a lovely and amazing series on pictures that must be seen, rather than described. I can imagine someone wanting this artwork on their wall.
Then, suddenly, as Harve Presnell sings, we see Julie, in a flowing white gown, the wind blowing her chiffon gown as she twirls. He meets her and they dance to “Out of My Dreams” from Oklahoma. It is a glorious, unbelievably beautiful scene, during which Julie gets to use her voice in a way that only she can. A true work of art.
Next, we have a break from beauty. This portion of the show is a comedy-drama in which Julie, wearing a sleek form-fitting modern dress with a gold coin-link belt, is in danger and needs to escape. At least, that’s what she’s told by Rich Little who is playing Humphrey Bogart in a scene from one of his films.
As Julie travels from place to place, she encounters Rich again, in the persons of Perry Mason, John Wayne, Truman Capote and Henry Fonda, among others. The acting is extremely well-done, and by the end, Julie has messed up her hair as she runs her fingers through it in despair. Finally, she stands swigging a big bottle of wine. She hiccups and then, the unexpected reaction sets her into a fit of laughter, obviously not planned for the scene, but the director has left it in, all for our enjoyment.
Now we see Julie, standing on a spiral stairway, wearing deep pink and purple. She sings “The Man That Got Away,” all the while, going round and round, down the staircase, until at the end she is seated at the bottom. The song is well-done, the staircase, a bit dizzying. A comic touch ends the scene. The phone rings and Julie has to run all the way up those stairs to see if the ‘man that got away’ is calling!
Finally, we see the three stars before us: Donald O’Connor, Julie Andrews and Harve Presnell. Mr. Presnell is quite tall and for once—a rare occasion as Julie is 5’7,” she looks small.
On this night, the trio is celebrating the music of Frank Loesser, giving us some rare treats. For the opening Donald O’Connor and Harve Presnell sing “Standing on the Corner, Watching All the Girls Go By.” Although these two performers have about a foot difference in their height, they are equally strong and it’s great. In the end, Donald O’Connor does a pratfall, falling on his face.
Next, Julie, wearing a lovely gown, on a set with flowers, begins a new scene with “Somebody, Somewhere” a song rarely heard. She comes forward to join Harve Presnell for “My Heart Is So Full of You.” This musical number with these two great musical performers brings tears to the eyes. It is beautiful and THRILLING! I can say no more than that. It amazes me that this musical treasure, among others, has not seen the light in forty years. What a shame. (I neglected to say, this should be top of the list for any duet CD with Julie Andrews.)
The cast now moves on to the musical, “Where’s Charley” and after some fun with the whole cast, especially Julie who can make you laugh just by looking into the bassoon she is supposedly playing, we get to see O’Connor sing and dance, “Once In Love with Amy.” Short of seeing the original, Ray Bolger, watching Donald O’Connor is great entertainment. You cannot help but get a smile on your face as you watch him.
From here, the show moves to “Guys and Dolls.” Julie, sporting a feather boa, takes the solo, “If I Were a Bell” and she is ready to go. She’s having a great time singing this number, looking into the camera right at us, and we can’t help having a great time with her.
Presnell follows with “Luck Be a Lady.” His persona and voice are powerful. It’s a thrill to see a great performer like this, sing a great musical theater song.
The scene from “Hans Christian Anderson,” perhaps a lesser known musical by Frank Loesser is quite enjoyable. Julie Andrews and Donald O’Connor are seated in a swing together, singing. Donald, who once sang with Ethel Merman, is not meek about his part of the song and holds his counterpoint melody strongly. There’s great pleasure between these two performers working together and it makes it all the more pleasurable for us, the audience.
“I Believe in You” from “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying” is sung by Harve Presnell and Julie Andrews. Then, with two faces looking at one another through the bubbling water bottle dispenser, the camera pulls out as the cast joins together to sing and dance, “Brotherhood of Man.”
Once again, the obvious enjoyment of great talent working together, singing great music just overflows from this show. And when Julie Andrews is truly happy to be performing, she radiates with beauty and joy.
As Julie says 'goodnight’ to her guests, Donald replies, “It’s always a pleasure to dance on your show,” and gives us an impromptu tap step, then leaps through the air as he leaves the stage. Harve follows with a few notes and Julie responds in a few notes, sounding like a deep-voiced diva. Rich Little closes out as Cary Grant.
Then, standing before the set of Loesser sheet music and a deep, starry sky, Julie sings the entire song, “Time Is My Friend,” a rare event. As she sings “Time now to go, for everything must end,” do we detect a tear in her eye? She has one more show to go. Sad, indeed. But what a wonderful night it was. And what a treasure!
© Michelle Russell
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