The twisted history of ‘Victor Victoria’

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Julie Andrews Edwards refused to accept a Tony Award for her stage role in “Victor Victoria” because the cast and the play itself were not recognized.

“Victor Victoria,” the Malibu Stage Company’s current production, has a checkered and tragic past.

As with many tragedies, it began with success. Longtime Malibu resident Blake Edwards wrote and directed the 1982 film of the same name, adapting it from the 1933 German film, “Viktor und Victoria.” Edwards cast his wife, Julie Andrews, as the lead of an all-star cast that featured Robert Preston and James Garner. The film earned seven Academy Award nominations and won an Oscar for the score written by Henry Mancini, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse.

Though Edwards had written and directed such classics as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “The Great Race” and “The Pink Panther” series, it was “Victor Victoria” he turned to more than a decade later when he considered a major stage production.

And for the lead, he once again turned to his wife. For Andrews, who gained renown for her iconic roles in “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music,” the defining feature of her talent was an astounding four-octave soprano voice she debuted in her first solo professional performance in 1947 at the age of 12.

When the stage version of “Victor Victoria” hit Broadway in 1995, it met with rave reviews and rejuvenated the career of Andrews, then in the midst of a late-career slump.

Vincent Canby, the New York Times theater critic, wrote, “At 60, Ms. Andrews looks terrific and sings with a sweet purity not heard on Broadway since she last played in ‘Camelot.’ That was more than 30 years ago.”

For Andrews’ performance in the title role of a struggling female singer who pretends to be a man (“Victor”) in order to gain work at nightclubs impersonating a woman (“Victoria”) she was nominated for a Tony Award.

However, she was upset that the nominating committee had overlooked the rest of the cast, as well as the play. This led her to reject the nomination, saying, “I have searched my conscience and my heart, and I find that sadly I cannot accept this nomination, and I prefer to stand instead with the egregiously overlooked” cast and creative team.

No star of Andrews’ stature had ever before declined a Tony nomination.

Two years into the show’s 734-performance run, Andrews started having vocal problems. The problem was diagnosed as a small non-cancerous nodule on her vocal chords, and after missing more than 30 shows, Andrews dropped out of the role to undergo corrective surgery. Liza Minnelli and then Raquel Welch replaced her.

Doctors had reportedly told her before undergoing the surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan she would be back singing within six weeks. But the surgery did not go well. Two years later, after her voice had still not returned, Andrews filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the surgeons for botching the procedure.

The actress said at the time, “Singing has been a cherished gift, and my inability to sing has been a devastating blow.”

The malpractice suit was reportedly settled for $20 million.

Andrews later resigned herself to the permanent loss of her voice, and moved on to writing children’s books, directing and acting occasionally in non-singing roles. In 2000, Queen Elizabeth II designated her as a Dame Commander of the British Empire. She has had roles in both “Princess Diaries” films in 2001 and 2004, as well as voice roles in the “Shrek” movies, and most recently, the 2010 “Despicable Me.”

Andrews won the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album For Children for “Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies.

Edwards, with whom she lived in Malibu, died in 2010.