THE STREET WHERE SHE LIVES

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If you're a theatergoer and plan to be in New York anytime this fall, here's a date to enter into the old calendar: Oct. 18.

Which is when Julie Andrews returns to Broadway starring in a new musical version of "Victor/Victoria" at the Marquis theater. Tickets went on sale recently by phone through Ticketmaster and I'm sure that between now and October we'll be exposed to the usual hype and then some.

But when you realize that Ms. Andrews, who first opened on Broadway in "The Boyfriend" on her 19th birthday, will turn 60 on Oct. 1 (presumably during previews of "Victor/Victoria"), this is going to be something special.

Julie Andrews 60? How can this be? Has someone's computer been in error? Is the Gregorian calendar out of whack? Maybe if we all swear we believe in Tinker Bell and clap our hands, Julie will be 19 again and playing "Polly" in "The Boyfriend." Is that too much to ask?

In 1982 Julie, along with the great and regrettably dead Robert Preston, Jim Garner and Lesley Ann Warren (some critics felt she stole the movie with her brassy vulgarity), starred in a film version of "Victor," produced, written and directed by Ms. Andrews' husband, Blake Edwards, who's also directing this new stage version. Henry Mancini did the music for the movie and, just before his death last summer, he completed the score for the stage re-play. And this time Tony Roberts, so good in all those Woody Allen flicks, co-stars with Julie.

But this isn't about Tony or Hank Mancini or Mr. Edwards or even this new musical; it's about Julie Andrews on Broadway again after a long, long time, back in New York where she belongs, "on the street where she lives."

She didn't start out here, being born in 1935 in a small English town on the Thames and she wasn't "Andrews" then, either, but Julia (with an "a") Elizabeth Wells and she was earning a living young (main breadwinner in the family, they say), singing in London professionally at 12 and giving a command performance for the Queen at 13. In 1953 she was playing "Cinderella" onstage in London when they cast her as "Polly" in a musical trifle called "The Boyfriend," which opened on Broadway to raves.

She was tall and young and blonde and beautiful, and New York, even the dread Broadway critics, fell in love. I remember we had seats way up in the last balcony (any farther back and you were in a different theater entirely) and neither height nor distance mattered; young Julie just took that theater and that audience and never let go. I can't remember a single line of music or anything about the plot (there was a boy named "Tony" with whom "Polly" was hopelessly in love and with whom she would be reunited by the final curtain and there was another wonderful young British actress called Dilys Lay) but I will never forget the 19-year-old Julie Andrews.

Nor would Alan Lerner and Fritz Loewe who cast her a year or so later as Eliza in "My Fair Lady."

We all know what happened next, playing opposite Richard Burton as Jenny in his towering "Camelot." I was living in Europe by then and never saw that production but an old pal, now dead, named Harvey Mann, was Lerner's assistant at the time and later on could go on for hours about the magic of that play both onstage and behind the scenes, Julie still just a kid and Burton at the height of his powers, and with the Kennedys in the White House seeming to be acting out a real-life version of Lerner's and Loewe's musical poetry.

Then Hollywood, as usual, screwed it up, casting as Liza Doolittle not the young actress who owned the role but Audrey Hepburn, who couldn't even sing. Julie wasn't "big" enough they said, wouldn't sell tickets, wasn't "box office." This is no rap at the wonderful Ms. Hepburn but I think a lot of us cheered a year later when Julie, as "Mary Poppins," rubbed their silly noses in it by winning the Oscar as best actress.

There were plenty of movies after that, most of them good and a few clunkers (her "The Americanization of Emily" is largely overlooked but was a brilliantly cynical and funny view of war with the greatly underrated but splendid James Garner), and television specials and books and a long and apparently happy marriage to Blake Edwards.

But when I read that Julie is coming back in "Victor/Victoria," it's to "The Boyfriend" and even more, to "My Fair Lady," that I turn. I guess I've seen "MFL" four times onstage, a couple of those starring Rex Harrison. And however good were later "Lizas," Julie's remains the quintessential cockney flower girl who only wanted a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air, and who ended up speaking the King's English and becoming a lady.

Shaw was long dead by the time Julie got to Broadway but if the old rascal made it to heaven, surely he was looking down that night and smiling from some celestial loge as she and Higgins and Colonel Pickering burst into song and manic dance to "The Rain in Spain."

Everyone will have his fondest moment in theater-going. I saw Fonda in "Mister Roberts" and John Raitt in "The Pyjama Game" and Alfred Drake and Pat Morrison in "Kiss Me Kate" and I was there the night "42nd Street" opened with Jerry Orbach and at the end during the standing ovations, Merrick stepped to the footlights and told an audience, and a cast, suddenly silenced and stunned, "Gower Champion died today."

That is what theater is, great moments and glistening webs of magic.

Can there be any more wonderful and touching magical moment than at the end of "Fair Lady" when old Higgins, thinking he's lost Liza, prowls the stage alone, recognizing the young goddess he's created has left him for another, lesser man? And then, in his gloom, he hears a stirring behind him at the door, stiffens and begins to exult, before falling back into his curmudgeon's role to growl, as the curtain falls (and as my fallible memory serves!):

"Fetch my damned slippers, Eliza."

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