While theaters are alive with the sound of Julie Andrews in song again, the actress insists it falls short of all-out singing.
“The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement,” which opens today, marks Andrews’ first big-screen musical performance since she underwent surgery in 1997 to remove noncancerous nodules in her throat. The operation spoiled her four-octave voice.
In the movie, a sequel to the 2001 hit “The Princess Diaries,” Andrews duets with pop singer Raven on a tune called “Your Crowning Glory.” The song is the centerpiece of a slumber-party scene for Princess Mia (Anne Hathaway), who’s being groomed to take over the throne of the tiny kingdom of Genovia from her grandmother, Queen Clarisse (Andrews).
“I wish I could call it singing,” says Andrews, 68. “I don’t want to mislead anyone. I really would like it to be made very clear that, in fact, it isn’t singing. It’s sort of speak-singing, singing-speak.”
Four years ago, Andrews reached an undisclosed settlement in her malpractice lawsuit against the doctors and hospital she blamed for destroying her singing voice with a botched operation.
An Academy Award winner for the 1965 musical “Mary Poppins” and a nominee for singing roles in “The Sound of Music” and “Victor/Victoria,” Andrews initially resisted suggestions that she sing in “Princess Diaries 2.”
She worried that it could bog down the action and might be viewed by audiences as a gimmick.
Urged on by Andrews’ husband, filmmaker Blake Edwards, director Garry Marshall kept up the pressure. Andrews finally agreed after Marshall assured her if she did not like the result, he would cut the song out of the movie.
Her longtime friend Larry Grossman was hired to write the melody, while Lorraine Feather wrote the lyrics.
“I said, ‘If you do it, it’s got to be with the five notes that I have, and you really have to set it very low, and you have to make it very simple,’ ” Andrews said.
Andrews half-talks, half-croons her way through the first part of the song before handing it off to Raven. Those on the set were deeply moved – some teary-eyed – when Andrews performed the song, Marshall said.
The staging was deliberately simple and impromptu.
“Julie insisted that it not be a big deal. No orchestra, no ‘Ladies and gentlemen! The Sands Hotel, the Palace proudly presents, Queen Clarisse!’ ” Marshall boomed.
There was talk of pairing Andrews and Hathaway, a trained soprano, for the duet. But Hathaway had just come off a singing role in last spring’s “Ella Enchanted” and felt it best to sit out the song this time.
“I had just sung in the last film I had out, and I had sung well in that film, so the only way to do it would be to sound terrible,” Hathaway said. “And I thought, it’s not really in Mia’s personality to be a singer.”
The loss of her voice has not sidelined Andrews. A nominee at next month’s Emmys for last year’s TV movie “Eloise at Christmastime,” Andrews is an author of children’s books and provided the voice of Queen Lillian in this year’s top-grossing hit, “Shrek 2.”
In late October, she will be host of the six-hour documentary series “Broadway: The American Musical” on PBS.
Such steady work has made the loss of her singing voice easier to bear.
“It’s been very frustrating,” she says. “There’s nothing more wonderful than singing, and singing with a great orchestra. There’s no greater joy, really, and it has been very tough.
“I do mourn it a great deal, but I am very wonderfully, happily busy, so I’m awfully glad. If it completely stopped me in my tracks it would be terrible, but it hasn’t.”
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