Q&A / JULIE ANDREWS, actress: 'Music old and new' is theme for ASO evening

Best known for family-friendly musicals such as "Mary Poppins" and "The Sound of Music," British actress Julie Andrews has sung her way to stardom via stage, screen and television. Along with her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton, she has also penned a number of children's books since 2003.

Andrews is host of "The Gift of Music," which makes its East Coast debut with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra next weekend, bringing her Rodgers and Hammerstein past together with a musical adaptation of "Simeon's Gift," her best-selling 2003 children's book.

She took a moment to discuss this production and her career.

Q: From Disney movies to children's books, a good bit of your career has been devoted to children. Why has that been such a focus of yours?

A: My writing began about 35 years ago when I wrote a book for my daughter and it very happily and luckily got published. It sparked the desire to write another book, and as a result of that I began to write more and more. Much of my work has been family-friendly because children do seem to respond, and I adore my own kids and grandkids. It's nothing that I distinctly planned, but it is something I get a great deal of pleasure out of.

Q: Your upcoming show with the ASO will marry two of the things you are known for —- Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals and children's tales. How did this pairing come about?

A: I had been asked for quite a while to do an evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein music. The little book in the second half has had an amazing serendipity. It's about a musician and the creative process. From the day that my daughter and I wrote it, it's had an amazing amount of good fortune associated with it, nothing that has come from us. It was a beautifully illustrated book with a CD packaged with it [that was] developed into a play for children in Long Island last year. Out of that came the suggestion that we turn it into a narrated piece for symphony and voice.

The idea of doing it symphonically was very stimulating, and the Rodgers and Hammerstein people very happily agreed that they would love to do the first half of the evening and they would welcome my doing "Simeon's Gift" as the second half. We packaged it with the idea that gifts of music old and new would be the theme for the evening and so far it has worked very well.

Q: You also recently released "Home," a memoir that's not necessarily intended for children. How did you feel about sharing these parts of your life with the world in this way?

A: I was asked about 14 years ago if I would do a memoir and I said I didn't feel ready. Then I wondered what the reason for writing a memoir would be. There's a wonderful memoir by Moss Hart, who was the director of "My Fair Lady" and "Camelot" when I did them both on Broadway, called "Act One." What he was able to do was capture a small piece of theater history about the early days of his life on Broadway and what it was like to work with all the greats that he worked with. And I thought, "That's the reason to do the book, to try to capture a piece of my history that not too many people know about," which was my early days in English vaudeville.

Q: One very crucial part of your life's story has been the throat surgery that has prevented you from singing for quite a while. Having been a big part of making some of these songs so famous, how does it feel to hear other people performing them?

A: I wouldn't say I exactly sing my way through the evening, but I think the audience will be surprised by what I do manage to do. I long to be doing [the songs], but I have to just add to them. I have five of the loveliest singers that I could possibly imagine [Stephen Buntrock, Christiane Noll, Kevin Odekirk, Anne Runolfsson and Jubilant Sykes], all of whom are supremely talented and totally wonderful in their own right. It has been a complete joy to work together and I have to say if anybody is singing these songs I'm glad it's these five lovely people.

CONCERT PREVIEW

"The Gift of Music"

8 p.m. Aug. 2. $25-$75. Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park, Alpharetta. 404-733-5012, www.vzwamp.com.

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