Julie Andrews has a show on Netflix, “Julie’s Greenroom,” a theater-themed show for small fry. 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-Rofé (“The New Adventures of Madeline”), it has 13 episodes premiering Friday. The series divides history into the eons before Andrews had a show on Netflix and the time when she does, and in this small way, at least, our troubled and troubling world has improved.
“Isn’t it a glorious day?” asks Andrews, 81, entering stage left. (Your right.) Yes, one suddenly feels, it is. It’s Julie Andrews, people!
Andrews plays Julie, sometimes called Jules, sometimes called Miss Julie (probably not meant as a reference to the August Strindberg play, but you never know), who runs a performing arts workshop for kids in a theater built by her father, who ran performing arts workshops for kids before her. She is not, I don’t think, supposed to be the Julie Andrews; if she is, she is awfully modest in 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. (Perhaps Gus started as a puppet before becoming a real boy.) 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 as Cousin Oliver in “The Brady Bunch.”
There is also a duck named Hugo who sings and dances and wants to audition for their play. (“The theater never discriminates,” says Julie, “so we’ll have to consider this.”) He says one word, and that is quack. Gus translates for him. (“I studied duck at Wesleyan.”) And there is a puppet dog, who is just a dog.
A story runs through the series: 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, with other visitors to include Ellie Kemper, Josh Groban, Tituss Burgess, Bill Irwin and Andrews’ longtime 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 theaters 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.
And the theater! I am, admittedly, a sucker for watching gifted people perform, for the artistic reach that exceeds its grasp — but many of us, big and little, are susceptible to that particular magic. And just as it’s good for there to be television shows that play to or stimulate kids’ interest in science or math, one that wants to teach them the meaning of terms like “the house,” “the wings” and “the flies,” to know their stage left from their stage right and how to be heard in the back row without a microphone, strikes me as valuable, welcome and, given the political ill will regarding the arts, arriving not a moment too soon.
When: Anytime, starting Friday
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd