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Netflix in Hong Kong

New on Netflix: Julie Andrews plays mentor to performing kids in Julie’s Greenroom, and makes everything glorious

Actress plays a woman who runs a theatrical workshop for Greenies in this TV series that teaches pre-schoolers about the performing arts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 March, 2017, 5:37pm

Julie Andrews has a show on Netflix, Julie’s Greenroom, a theatre-themed show for children. Created by Andrews with Emma Walton Hamilton (her daughter and collaborator on the The Very Fairy Princess books) and children’s TV veteran Judy Rothman-Rofe (The New Adventures of Madeline), it has 13 episodes. The show premiered worldwide including Hong Kong last Friday.

“Isn’t it a glorious day?” asks Andrews, 81, entering stage left. Yes, one suddenly feels, it is. It’s Julie Andrews, people!

Andrews plays Julie, sometimes called Jules, sometimes called Miss Julie, who runs a performing arts workshop for kids in a theatre built by her father, who also ran performing arts workshops for kids.

She is not, I think, supposed to be the Julie Andrews. If she is, she is awfully modest, never mentioning My Fair Lady, Camelot, Mary Poppins or The Sound of Music. Perhaps she is saving it for later, for a big finish.

Gus (Giullian Yao Gioiello) is her right hand, a former student and the only other actual human in the regular cast. When they sing, he takes the higher parts. (Yes, Andrews, whose voice was ruined in an operation 20 years ago, is singing here, in a limited, but most effective way.)

The current class is all puppets, the work of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop – I guess we can’t call them Muppets now that Disney owns that brand. Diverse in culture and character, they include a child who uses a wheelchair and another who seems meant to be “on the spectrum” – “If only I could play a robot; that’s a character I can relate to,” he says – and who looks a little like Robbie Rist playing Cousin Oliver in The Brady Bunch.

An intended production of The Wizard of Oz is sidelined when a burst pipe in the basement destroys the props and the costumes, leaving the kids to build their own original musical from the ground up. This provides opportunities for visits from guest artists – Idina Menzel, Alec Baldwin and members of the cast of Stomp in the three episodes I’ve seen. Other visitors include Ellie Kemper, Josh Groban, Tituss Burgess, Bill Irwin and Andrews’ long-time friend and sometime performing partner Carol Burnett – who drop by to lead “master classes,” eat mini-scones and drink white grape juice, which doesn’t stain. Filmed portions take the action out into the real theatres of Broadway.

Happiness pours out of Julie’s Greenroom. The show could easily slop over into preciousness, with all these talking dolls and the bountiful positivity – every crisis is just a brief prelude to a solution and a reason for Andrews to say “Oh, gosh,” which is its own small delight. But it stays sharp enough. There is none of the awful giggling often forced upon animated or puppet children in preschool series, as if kids went around laughing at everything all the time.

As on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, the interplay between the people and the puppets feels perfectly natural; indeed, real kids, being kid actors, might have been problematically cute.