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Music Pros Help Julie Andrews Teach Kids About the Arts in Netflix Series

Julie Andrews has come a long way since the botched surgery that stole her four-octave range two decades ago. The latest chapter of her spectacular comeback is “Julie’s Greenroom,” a new Netflix series for kids about the performing arts in which the 81-year-old legend sings with her guests on several songs.

Andrews created the series with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, and Judy Rothman Rofé. When writer-director Joey Mazzarino, who was at the helm for 10 of the show’s 13 episodes, came to the production, his first call was to his former “Sesame Street” colleague Bill Sherman, music director for the past eight years on the PBS children’s-programming staple. Sherman signed on as music director for “Greenroom” and produced all of the songs.

He, in turn, brought in Ryan Shore to compose the underscore. Shore’s background includes kids shows such as “Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero” and “Scooby-Doo! WrestleMania Mystery.” Says Sherman: “We developed the sound of the show along with Julie, Emma, and everyone else.”

Each episode explores a different aspect of the arts, from writing and acting to costumes and improv, and each features a guest star who interacts with theater-director Ms. Julie (Andrews), her assistant Gus (Guillian Yao Gioiello), and the Greenies (played by a new batch of Muppets from the Henson Co.).

“We were constantly having discussions over lyrical content,” Sherman says, as well as the tone of the music. “Does it sound like radio or a theater piece? These days, theater music can sound like anything, so the idea was just make it as ‘hooky’ and sing-along as possible, so that if kids heard it once, they could sing it back. That’s our goal with ‘Sesame Street’ too.”

Sherman recruited a team of songwriters including New York-based singer-performer Shaina Taub, who penned the series theme song “Mash-Up.” Says Taub, “I believe the best way to write for young people is to write as you would for anyone — as truthfully and open-hearted as possible. Kids are smart and they can tell right away when you’re talking down to them. I try to never dumb anything down for a young audience.”

Taub set out to write an upbeat, joyful anthem to encompass all the arts, as well as a sense of inclusive, collaborative creativity. “I think what Julie and
Emma created with the Greenies is a vision of how the arts can lift up our common humanity, and I tried to make a simple but powerful song that reflected that,” she says.

Andrews’ memories of her disability lingered. “But,” Sherman says, “when she got into the room with guests like Alec Baldwin and Carol Burnett, they inspired her to sing. I think she convinced herself that she could do it, and she just went for it. It was amazing.”

Andrews wanted the score to sound almost like a pianist rehearsing for a theater show, Shore says. “Most of the score is based around a piano, then
colored by bass, drums, harp, percussion, and some other instruments.” The circus episode, featuring Bill Irwin, was especially fun, says Shore, who calls it “a musical tip of the hat to circus and vaudevillian performances.”

“From the moment I saw the show,” she adds, “it reminded me of ‘The Muppet Show,’ which I grew up on. You have a host, guest stars, and live actors interacting with puppets. That was one of the most exciting parts, to be able to collaborate with these people who have inspired me so much.”

Like Sherman, Shore worked directly with — and was starstruck by  — Andrews, who, he says, was specific with her musical direction. “Not only was she able to be so articulate and clear about what she was looking for,” he says, but — he pauses — “I’m talking with Julie Andrews!”

Among the project’s chief attractions for the creative team was the idea that they were contributing to a series about the importance of the arts, especially in the current political climate.

“When I was a kid, having access to the theater and music opened my mind and heart in indelible ways,” says Taub. “Now, as a grown-up, at a time when funding for the arts in our schools is more at risk than ever, I’m proud to be a small part of this series’ mission to bring the arts into kids’ lives when they need it most.”

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