IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Julie Andrews writes a tale about mouse actors

In “The Great American Mousical,” she and co-author Emma Walton Hamilton chronicle the fate of a decrepit theater and its troupe of mice.
/ Source: TODAY

Julie Andrews Edwards and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton set their tale far below Sovereign, a derelict theater in the heart of New York City’s Broadway district. The mouse thespians perform in a long-forgotten architect’s model of the theater. In this secret space, the troupe rehearse their own musical, “Broadway Airs.” Rehearsals are in their usual state of chaos when suddenly the production is threatened by the imminent demolition of the theater and the devastating disappearance of one of the members. As the clock ticks toward opening night, everyone is worried — will the little Sovereign survive? Edwards and Hamilton were invited on the “Today” show to talk about “The Great American Mousical” as well as Edwards' children’s book series for HarperCollins. Here’s an excerpt of their latest book with illustrations by Tony Walton, who happens to be Hamilton's dad and Edwards' ex-husband:

Chapter One
If you could stand upon a faraway star and look down at planet Earth on a cloudless evening, you might just notice a glowing pool of light ...  and chances are, that glow would be New York City. If you could leap from your star and fly down, down, down into the heart of that great metropolis, you would land in the most twinkling, sparkling place of all — Times Square. And, if you walked down any street in that area, you would be in the center of the theater district —Broadway, a place where magic happens every single night, and sometimes twice in a day.

The theater where our story takes place was once very special and quite exquisite, which is why it was named the Sovereign. If you entered the lobby and passed through the swinging doors into the chandeliered auditorium, you would feel a sense of wonder at all that had been contained therein: the thrilling music and dances, the words that expressed a thousand ideas, the costumes that rustled, the glowing lights that shone on the evocative scenery ...  You would understand that many lives had been touched here throughout the years.

If you walked down one of the carpeted aisles, out from under the gilt-edged balcony, past the tiers of red velvet seats and the boxed sections on either side of them, you would see the orchestra pit ahead of you, the square of the proscenium, and the gently curving apron of the stage. If by chance your eyes glanced to the right, and if you were really paying attention, you would spot a very small and carefully camouflaged door in the baseboard of the beaded wainscot.

On a night in late December, just after Christmas, when our tale begins, this little door was wide open. Leaning against the frame was a portly mouse dressed in corduroy knickerbockers, a faded waistcoat, and spotted bow tie. The little hair that remained on his head was long and wispy, but in spite of his shabby appearance there was a charisma about him — a certain grandeur, a slight pomposity, but the whole somehow compelling attention. His name was Harold. Behind him, peering around his considerable frame, was another mouse, Pippin — a youngster, clad in jeans, a faded T-shirt, and a baseball cap turned backward on his head. Around his neck was a thin piece of ribbon, to which was attached a small flashlight.

Harold was saying, “The last night. I hate last nights ... ‘parting is such sweet sorrow.’ But this show had a good long run.”

Pippin watched the dancing, tapping feet of the human performers, their shoes sparkling with sequins and bows, the chiffon skirts of the ladies swirling as their male partners twirled them around. The heads of the members of the orchestra were bobbing in rhythm, their shoulders leaning into the task of bringing the final song to a rousing finish. The music swelled, the voices onstage rose to a high note, and with a whoosh! the magnificent red velvet curtain swung down, the chains weighting its hem chinking and thudding on the stage, billowing and creating such a breeze that Pippin had to cling tightly to the back of Harold’s trousers so as not to be blown away.

The applause from the audience was thunderous and, as he always did, Pippin thrilled to this moment — the music; the lights; the dry, warm smell of dust and makeup and paint—and he thought himself the luckiest mouse in the world to be a small part of it all.

“What happens now, Harold — now that this show has closed?” he asked. “What’s coming in next?”

Harold rubbed his chin. “It’s odd, but I haven’t heard,” he replied. “I’ve seen so many come and go, and usually someone tells me what the next production will be — ”

He was interrupted as an anxious, bespectacled young mouse dressed in black work clothes came skidding to a halt beside him.

“We’ve been looking for you everywhere!” he gasped breathlessly. “Enoch says you have to come right away! Adelaide is at it again. Rehearsals are at a standstill, and you’re the only one who can calm her down ...”

The mice quickly closed the little pass door tightly behind them and scurried down a long, sloping corridor.

“Sorry, Fritz!” Pippin whispered as they followed Harold’s ample frame.

“Really, Pippin! As an intern you should know you can’t just run off to the human theater anytime you feel like it. We open in just a few days! We need all paws on deck!”

They rounded a sharp corner and continued on down, into the bowels of the theater, past the basement and the sub-basement, with its steaming pipes and electrical wires, and down again into the cavernous crawlspaces of the ancient building’s very foundation. Nestled there, almost hidden between two towering pillars and long forgotten, was an exquisite miniature replica of the Sovereign Theater as it once was.

The actual building above had suffered many changes and many colors of paint. Windows had been blocked or boarded up, and its plaster was crumbling, but this little architect’s model was pristine in appearance, albeit a trifle dusty — white, and resplendent with gilt trim, curlicued moldings, pillars, and balconies on its elegant façade. Beneath the classic line of the roof, carved cherubs smiled down to welcome all who entered. Large, colorful posters either side of the grand entrance read:

Broadway Airs
A Tribute to the Great American Mousical
One Performance Only—New Year’s Eve!

Harold, Pippin, and Fritz hurried through the stage door.

Enoch, the stage manager, was pacing impatiently by the entrance to the wardrobe department. “Where have you two been!” he exclaimed. “Of all the times to disappear ...”

“Sorry, sorry,” Harold puffed. “Couldn’t resist a peek at the closing night upstairs. Furthering Pippin’s education, you know. Now what’s up, dear boy?”

Enoch gestured helplessly toward the dressing room area. A colossal argument could be heard emanating from behind the door marked with a gold star.

Excerpted from “The Great American Mousical” by Julie Edwards. Copyright © 2006 Julie Edwards.Excerpted by permission of All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. All right reserved.