The Boyfriend

Julie Andrews is back, and for a week, she is in Chicago revisiting her past. No, she is not from Chicago originally and her production of The Boy Friend did not originate here. Her week at Chicago’s Chicago Theatre is behind the scenes. She is now directing the play that made her a star.

The Boy Friend was running in London’s west end theater district in 1954 when American producers Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin bought the U.S. rights to the show. They had been perusing the theater and television circuit of Great Britain for talent, and twice they encountered Julie Andrews, once in a musical pantomime, and once in a dramatic role. Boy Friend composer, Sandy Wilson had also seen her and everybody liked what they saw and heard.

Director Vida Hope, composer Wilson and producers Feuer and Martin, managed to persuade the slowly rising British actress to put her career on hold in the United Kingdom, and sign a one-year contract for the Broadway production of The Boy Friend. Andrews was offered nothing less than the staring role of Polly Browne; the show was as big a hit in the U.S. as it was in London, and Julie Andrews became a major force in theater on this side of the Atlantic.

By 1955, she made her television debut with Bing Crosby as a co-star and signed a contract to play Eliza Doolittle in Lerner and Loewe’s, My Fair Lady. It had been but years since she had been born Julia Elizabeth Wells in Walton-on-Thames, in Surrey, England. She had joined the musical hall of her mother and stepfather as World War II ended and appeared in the radio with her stepfather, Ted Andrews, by 1946.

By 1950, she was gaining in popularity as a BBC regular, when MGM of Great Britain decided to give her a screen test. She was deemed “unfilmable” as a teenager and would not make her film debut until 1964 in the U.S. with Mary Poppins and The Americanization of Emily. In between her teenage radio successes and screen failure was the musical stage where she became a star.

It was the Broadway production of The Boy Friend in 1954 that began a career that would include some 25 films, numerous television appearances and four smash Broadway successes. The recognition of her peers would include three Oscar nominations (Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and Victor Victoria) and three Tony nominations (My Fair Lady, Camelot and Victor Victoria), and the Academy Award for her first film, Mary Poppins.

Now at age 70, she is directing The Boy Friend and her new wonderful production is making a stop at the Chicago Theatre at 175 North State Street until Nov. 19.

Her ebullient young cast has no name performers, just singing and dancing talent that could steal any show. Choreographer John DeLuca assembles some wonderful dance numbers that really put some zip into this show and give this antique story a proper tribute to the old steps with modern athletic hoofers.

Yes, this is a story (book, music and lyrics by Sandy Wilson) that pays tribute to the lightweight musical plots of early 20th century musicals by creating a simple, disarming mishmash of most of the earlier musicals.

It was a modern tribute in 1953-54 to the old, and in 2005, it does show its age. With songs that spoof the compositions of Cole Porter, Vincent Youmans, Jerome Kern and Noel Coward, it really has to reach to find a modern audience.

It has not been revived on Broadway since 1970, and Ken Russell’s 1971 film (currently not available in any video format) cut two songs and did poorly at the box office. So, here is a show that needs some serious razzle dazzle to grab a modern audience, with the full understanding that most modern audiences are not familiar with it.

To bring back the quaintness of the pre World War II era. director Andrews acquired the services of legendary designer Tony Walton (also her first husband). His costumes and sets bring just the right atmosphere to this energetic and slickly directed revival that just may bring this 50-year-old tribute to the “good old days” to a modern audience. As it heads towards Broadway, do we see a best director Tony nomination for Julie Andrews?

If you want to try for some tickets this weekend, and they are available: 312-462-6300 or

Leave a Reply