Venues across Calderdale will be alive with the sound of music of Julie Andrews as Nicola Mills brings her tribute show to the star of stage and screen to town.
.Nicola, who lives in Todmorden, has been a fan of Dame Julie, who played the magical nanny in the original Mary Poppins and Maria in The Sound of Music, since childhood.
Here Nicola, a trained opera singer who has worked across Europe and New York talks to us ahead of her concerts called A Spoonful of Julie
“I’m originally from Oldham and from a working class background.
My dad was a plumber and my mum worked in the corner shop. I went to the Oldham Music Centre from the age of sven to learn to play the trombone, joined Oldham Girls Choir when I was 13 and was given free singing lessons when I was 15.
I went to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama for six years to train to be an opera singer and went to work in opera houses around Europe for 10 years.
Sowing the seed
When I was a little girl my cousin introduced me to Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, Calamity Jane, Annie and My Fair Lady when she was babysitting me.
Since then I have been hooked.
I would sing along to The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins especially and still love everything about them.
Doing this show is fulfilling a life long dream to sing the songs of Julie Andrews. I feel so lucky that I can do this.
Putting together my Julie tribute
I kept saying to people when I was singing at their events that I really wanted to do a Julie Andrews tribute and could see myself doing it with an orchestra in the future.
My gut instinct just kept telling me to do it, and it was when I was living in New York last year and spoke to a Belgian conductor who works in Philadelphia on lots of film music, and he told me to write my own show, and that was the point when something snapped and I said ‘I’m going to do it’.
I was absolutely brimming with excitement and once I got over the fear of where to even begin, I started to research her in the Lincoln Center performing arts library in Manhattan.
I got my hands on everything I could about her for the next three months, watched every video, looked at photos, read all the biographies – I was like a kid in a sweet shop learning so much about her – and the image of my show started to come to my mind and I could see what I wanted to do.
I have decided to stick to Julie’s formula that she kept doing over and over again.
Sing the songs and tell little stories along the way. Keep it classy and elegant, just as she is. No tacky gimmicks.
A friend of a friend who I knew when I was living in Belgium is good friends with the ex musical director of Cats with Elaine Paige and worked in the West End for years with all the greats, and he agreed to write the musical side of the show with me.
I gave him a pile of music, and we spent five days going through it all and working out what would go well with what and what parts of the songs to include etc...and then I had my show a few months later once he’d worked on it.
It’s a one woman show with a pianist, and is full of songs and medleys of all the favourite things with some Julie stories thrown in, and some of my own stories of why this lady has influenced my life so much and how she came to be so big. I listen to her and she puts a smile on my face. It is an absolute pleasure to be doing this.
I came up with the idea to call it A Spoonful of Julie and I worked hard to get myself a tour around the UK in 16 different places. I don’t have an agent so it’s totally my thing. Nobody else is in charge which is scary and stressful and exciting all at once.
I decided to have some singalong moments too as I know how much people love the music too and I wanted to make it as audience friendly as possible.
There’s some things people won’t have heard but it’s all part of her story, like how she performed Cinderella by Rodgers and Hammerstein live to more than a 100 million people who were tuning in around the world.
I love that she brought so much pleasure to people and I love that about singing for people.
I would love to meet her. I did contact her agent in LA about working with her on this tribute but I was told they have many people making contact.
The closest I have got to her was in November last year at The a Royal Festival Hall where she was there to promote her new book.
I did whatever I could to make sure I got a ticket for that as they sold out within an hour of going on sale. I was on the website the minute the ticket sales opened.
My favourite parts of The Sound of Music are The Laendler scene where Maria and Captain Von Trapp fall in love and the song Something Good. It always brings a tear to my eye when I sing that one, but I love Mary Poppins and especially the singing in the mirror bit – A Spoonful of Sugar – I had to put that in my show.
I have been doing my own initiative called ‘Opera for the People’ for the past four years, combining my down-to-earth northern roots with singing popular opera and a list of songs that make up my song menu.
I let the audience choose the songs they want me to sing. It’s got a Pavarotti Pop section and lots of songs that I love.
I did have a full time job in an opera house in Antwerp but decided to leave my job to follow my heart in singing for ‘the people’.
It’s my job to make people smile and enjoy themselves and there’s no better feeling. I would definitely say Julie inspired me to be a singer and then when I had the lessons I knew it was what I wanted to do and I’ve devoted myself to it since.
I washed up in restaurants when I was studying for my A-Levels to pay for lessons, and now I sing on the streets too to bring opera to the people and get my show out there at the same time.
My greatest ambition is to be like Andre Rieu, but for myself with my name. I want to sing for the masses and bring my crossover music and Julie Andrews to people around the world, bringing music to people in a friendly and down to earth way.
I see myself with an orchestra and people dancing too. There’s a whole picture in my mind of what I would love to happen.
I’m just following my heart and seeing where it takes me. It’s certainly an interesting journey.
Where you can see the show
Saturday March 7 at 7.30pm: Hope Baptist Church, Hebden Bridge.
Saturday March 28 at 7.30pm: St Martin’s Church, Church Lane, Brighouse Tickets:
Friday April 17 at 7.30pm: Holmfirth Civic Hall, Huddersfield Road, Holmfirth
Christchurch, The Grove, Ilkley, Friday April 24 at 7.30m