"My Fair Lady" had its world premiere at the Shubert Theater in New Haven in 1956 on the night of a huge snow storm. A terrified Rex Harrison, a novice to musicals, refused to come out of his dressing room. After much persuasion and threats, Harrison stepped out on stage and first-nighters were stunned by the show's magnificence. Halfway through the first act, the audience literally stopped the show as 20-year-old Andrews took the hands of Harrison and fellow actor Robert Coote and led them in a small bow to acknowledge the response in order to satisfy the audience and to continue with the show.

"It was true theater legend, all of it," says Andrews of that and other anecdotes surrounding the development of the show when the young actress was given a role that would change her life and make her a star.

Andrews says the methodology of producing new musicals has changed with the out-of-town circuit gone and with the financing of making shows so expensive. ("The cost of 'My Fair Lady' is a mere pittance compared to something like 'Wicked'," she says.)

"But I know one thing: the talent today is enormous. In the old days, the singers were hired, the dancers were hired, the actors were hired. There weren't the triple-threat, talented people there are today in such numbers. It's not a lack of talent that's the challenge. It's a question of a lack of funds and which shows will be lucky enough to get off the ground."

"Something Larger"

When asked if she'd consider returning to the stage to act in plays — Noel Coward's "Hay Fever" comes to mind as well as George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's "You Can't Take It With You" — she says, "I guess it would depend. There's nothing more magical than the stage."

She says producers occasionally pitch projects to her, especially revivals, "but there are so many lovely things happening in my life now, all of which surprise me."

Andrews says one of the reasons she enjoys directing is that it allows her "to give back to the theater. It's also a kind of passing on, to be part of something larger."

"The reason why I did my memoirs was because of my mentor Moss Hart [director of 'My Fair Lady' and 'Camelot,' where she played Guenevere with Richard Burton as Arthur and Robert Goulet as Lancelot in 1963]," she says. "I read [Hart''s acclaimed theatrical memoir] 'Act One' and realized that I never knew the Broadway of his early days and it plugged in a piece of the jigsaw for me. So it became a reason to publish my memoir and it was not just something for my own family to remember grandma by. I wanted to say what those days [in England and America] were like for me, too."

"I was privileged to be part of the great golden age of Broadway musical theater and to meet and mingle with people like Richard Rodgers, Noel Coward, Alan Jay Lerner, Fritz Loewe and Moss.

"One thing that is maddening to me is that when you're younger you're trying to find out who you are, you're finding your feet and learning what it is you do. I think now of the questions I should have asked all of them. I should have just sat at their feet. But it was all happening so fast and I didn't do that much as I should have."

And the young company of "Mousical?" Do the performers pepper her with questions about her long career ( which goes back to the last days of vaudeville in England and when she entertained British and American troups in England during World War Two when she was a child performer — along with Petula Clark).

"Occasionally," she says. "But they're the same way I was then. They're busy learning the show. They're adorable and decent and respectful, but they're finding out who they are, too."

THE GREAT AMERICAN MOUSICAL will run from Nov. 8 to Dec. 2 at the Norma Terris Theatre in Chester. Information: 860-873-8668 and www.goodspeed.org.

Read Frank Rizzo's blog on theater, the arts and entertainment at http://www.courant.com/curtain. And be the first to know by following Frank on http://www.Twitter.com/ShowRiz