Backstory of the show Julie, Madly, Deeply
“It is not enough to reach for the brass ring. You must also enjoy the merry go round.” Julie Andrews
Sarah-Louise Young never got very far watching Julie Andrews movies at home. The family owned a British version of My Fair Lady, but listening was clandestine. Four older brothers who hated musicals were disdainful of the actress until she made fun of herself on The Muppet Show.
At 15, her 17 year-old boyfriend played the lead in The Boyfriend. Young went every night and cried when it was over. Opportunity to perform was unavailable until college, when she was able to switch from the academic major her family encouraged to theater. The young woman dove in – acting, singing, writing, and directing – all of which continue.
Michael Roulston remembers Mary Poppins as a Christmas treat. It appealed to him that Mary was “supernatural…that she could tidy a room with a flick of her finger.” It was The Boyfriend that turned the tide for him ten years later. His mother introduced her son to the head of an amateur theater group, touting his piano skills. He auditioned and began to play for them. “I think I got five pounds per show.”
Roulston discovered Victor/Victoria in his teens. “It showed that theater was transformative, that it was a place where you could be anything.” Still admittedly very shy, it wasn’t until university that his career choice became clear. “I found my esteem later on.”
The collaborators have known each other almost 20 years, writing songs together since 2009. Julie, Madly Deeply* is their eighth show and the only one featuring other than their own original material. They’re respectful and warm side by side though not above ribbing.
When Young came up with the idea to celebrate Andrews, she almost dispensed with it thinking both that the icon couldn’t be successfully impersonated and that “It would almost be unethical because she doesn’t sing anymore.” Despite doubt, nine months of research followed.
Needing a storyteller, she approached Director Russell Lucas. It was he who stitched together what the longtime colleagues called “Wikipedia Live.” “He sent me exercises, helped us find the characters, and teased out the way to tell the story not as Julie Andrews but theatrically through the people in her life.”
Songs are not in chronological order. “There’s a story about Julie as a 12 year-old child… Before she performed in the revue Starlight Roof at The London Hippodrome (1947), she went to Covent Garden and was given violets for good luck. They became her favorite flower. We do that moment, but use `Wouldn’t It Be Loverly’ as foreshadowing.”
“I developed greater respect for Richard Rodgers,” Roulston interjects. “We’ve done a lot of alt cabaret, but this was a venture into mainstream theater.” Young notes that the musical director’s underscoring weaves in songs from unmentioned musicals and films. Listen.
“The joy of making the show was finding a wealth of obscure information. I didn’t know Julie worked with Alfred Hitchcock or that she sang a duet with Johnny Cash; I was unfamiliar with The Americanization of Emily (1964 film with James Garner)…”
Will the show look through rose colored glasses, I inquire, as many of her fans see her? No, I’m promised, the dark side of her life is addressed, though purposefully not dwelt upon.
I ask what to them makes Andrews unique. “I think she’s honest and vulnerable. To bounce back from what must’ve been the most hideous, traumatic thing…Her daughter Emma Walton (with whom she writes children’s books) told her, you still have your voice, you’re just using it in a different way,” Young says. (In fact Julie Andrews is extremely busy these days.)
Did you learn anything about her you didn’t know? I query. “She became three dimensional to me,” Roulston replies. “I developed respect for the longevity of her talent.” “For me, the big learn was her work ethic and her childhood, which was really appalling,” Young answers.
Julie Madly Deeply debuted at The Edinburgh Fringe in 2013, moved to The West End, toured England and played in Toronto before landing at 59E59 Theaters. It’s creators are thrilled.
“We often say that after doing this show, we feel like we’re nicer people than we actually are.” Sarah-Louise Young and Michael Roulston
*After the 1990 British film, Truly Madly Deeply with
Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman
Opening photo by Claire-Bilyard
Julie Madly Deeply by Sarah-Louise Young
Directed by and with contributions from Russell Lucas
Musical Direction by Michael Roulston