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THE MOST POPULAR PLAY IN NEW York this season might be called She Still Looks Terrific. It's getting tremendous word-of-mouth in theater lobbies all over town. You can hear it at the Martin Beck, where Carol Burnett (age 62) is shining in Moon Over Buffalo, and at the Lunt-Fontanne, where Carol Channing (74) takes charge of Hello, Dolly! Now, at the Marquis, Julie Andrews (60) is back on Broadway after a 32-year absence, starring in the movie-turned-stage musical Victor/Victoria.

She is both Victor (the man-impersonating-a-woman whose racy nightclub act has made him/her the toast of '30s Paris) and Victoria (the down-on-her-luck English opera singer who, desperate for work, agrees to become a woman-impersonating-a-man-impersonating-a-woman whose racy nightclub act, etc.). The show's writer and director is her husband Blake Edwards, who after a long career in films (the Pink Panther series, as well as Victor/Victoria) has chosen to embark on musical theater.

"Star quality" is a term notoriously hard to define. But whatever it is, Julie Andrews, with her outflung smile and crystalline enunciations, still has it. A pity, then, she didn't have richer musical material than the humdrum score by the late Henry Mancini (including songs from the movie such as Le Jazz Hot), with additional numbers by Frank Wildhorn. It's touching, and a little sad, to watch this woman who, nearly 40 years ago, crested to fame in what remains arguably the greatest Broadway musical, My Fair Lady, now throwing herself into songs that have no afterlife; their echoes die even as you're walking up the aisle toward the lobby.

Tony Roberts has a likewise appealing stage presence as a gay companion/adviser/manager to Andrews. Having found true love in the unlikely form of a mobster's bodyguard, he moves deftly from whimsical philosophizing to jubilant clowning. Michael Nouri, as the Chicago mobster who falls for Andrews, is evidently meant to embody animal magnetism. While he's neither animal nor magnet enough to be fully convincing, he has some likable moments of sexual confusion. Poor thug, he can't be sure whether the creature he's pining after is a woman or a man. Edwards' direction turns up a couple of charming visual gags, and the sets are handsome and human scale; they don't overpower the actors.

As an actress, Andrews has been something of a prisoner, heaven knows, of the sweetness she personified so memorably in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. A musical about transvestites and mobsters, set in gay Paree, might seem quite a departure. But in the end there's something excessively sweet--something earnestly preachy and smug--in Victor/Victoria's pleas for tolerance. Edwards' brainchild may flirt with naughtiness, but it really wants to be nice, which gives Andrews a chance again to play Julie Andrews. For Mary Poppins has always known how to treat naughty-but-nice children: be gentle, but make it clear you're a no-nonsense type. Show them a firm but loving hand.