note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Carl A. Rossi
Judy Garland … Kathy St. George
In SpeakEasy’s production of RUTHLESS! THE MUSICAL, several seasons ago, Kathy St. George evoked the late Judy Garland (1922-1969) with a few well-chosen arm gestures; Ms. St. George now takes on the lady in full in Tony McLean’s AND NOW LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, MISS JUDY GARLAND, based on Ms. Garland’s attempted autobiography via tape recorder and backed by a dozen of her standards. Bootleg copies of these tapes have floated around for years and these ramblings of a sick, bankrupt woman make for painful listening: when Ms. Garland began her downslide in the 1950s, her vulnerability recast the Girl from Oz as a victim of manipulative men --- a role that her legions of fans came to demand in exchange for their love and devotion; not surprisingly, Ms. Garland’s narrative pleads her martyrdom and thus does the current production.
If AND NOW LADIES AND GENTLEMEN… is intended to be a portrait of Dorothy in Hell, it falls victim, itself, to its creators’ loving hands: as adapted and staged by Mr. McLean, Ms. Garland emerges as a nice lady with an unlucky streak, dressed in white silk and sipping white wine, nor does Ms. St. George suggest the unhealthiness that became part of Ms. Garland’s bravura style; even the clichéd wobble-walk is omitted. (This Judy declares that she is not an addict; imagine the psychological chill had she made this announcement shortly after popping some pills; as is, the line reaps a chuckle from the house.) If the evening is meant to humanize a showbiz monster in the first half and painlessly celebrate her artistry in the second half, then it all works nicely: Ms. St. George has never been more engaging (though like many a musical comedy performer, she projects rather than emotes) and on the night I attended the packed house cheered both women; my own pleasure lay in the dabs of dramatic colors that Ms. St. George added to her palette and which, hopefully, will not wash away, soon --- those colors, bolstered by her alluring “Black Coffee” in Stoneham’s PETE ‘N’ KEELY, hint that there is more to Ms. St. George than meets the beguiled eye. Taking on Judy Garland was something that Ms. St. George felt compelled to do; now she can --- and must --- move on, artistically: she has remained in Ms. Garland’s shadow for far too long.