note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Beverly Creasey
Tony McLean’s “Musical Event” pairs a concert of Judy Garland’s most beloved songs with a hefty section of the “bootleg tapes” she recorded for an autobiography which was never published--- all dramatized by premiere chanteuse Kathy St. George.
Her life was filled with wild acclaim (over 30 movies and countless concerts and appearances) and plagued with notoriety (five ex-husbands, numerous suits and countersuits, alcohol and drugs). Even thirty years after her death, thanks to solid film work and loyal fans, her memory still radiates that magic. AND NOW LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, MISS JUDY GARLAND, at the Lyric Stage for one more week, proves that we’re going to be fascinated with her ‘til the end of time.
Just about everyone knows that MGM signed Judy at the ripe old age of thirteen. By then she’d already had a lifetime of touring vaudeville with her sisters and a mother she would later call “the real Wicked Witch of the West.” The studio insisted she lose weight and film at all hours, so she was supplied a mountain of uppers and downers to keep her going---which, tragically, resulted in her death from overdose at age 47. Ray Bolger speculated that her ravaged body “just gave out.”
The tapes chronicle her “wounds”: From nasty gossip columnists to husbands and agents who stole her fortune out from under her. “I let it happen,” she says, blaming herself for her troubles. The tapes illustrate how harshly she could beat up on herself when others weren’t doing it for her. The concert portion of the evening arrives not a minute too soon, as welcome respite from the pain of her boozy confessions.
Pianist Tim Evans could play “the phone book” as the saying goes. He merely touches the keys and the piano begins to glow. Add St. George to Evans and you don’t even need the five hundred light bulbs which back Judy up. St. George has mastered Judy’s slight vibrato, the signature slur of the notes, the feigned innocent glance up at the audience through her bangs in “You Made Me Love You.”
Just like you’ll remember from those television appearances, she pumps the air, chugging with her arms for the Trolley Song. She works the black hat just like Judy did in “Sing Hallelujah, Come On Get Happy.” And she exploits the tremble of the voice for an emotional “Man That Got Away.” St. George bends her tiny body backwards, lifts the mic over her head, bends the notes, whispering a bittersweet lyric---and it sounds like the real thing! It’s a strange phenomenon, knowing it’s not Judy and yet, letting yourself believe it is. After she sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” the audience jumps to its feet, for Judy—and that’s no mean feat for an actress to accomplish.