Theatre Mirror Reviews - "And Now, Ladies And Gentlemen, Miss Judy Garland"

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note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Larry Stark

"And Now Ladies And Gentlemen, Miss Judy Garland"

Adapted and Directed by Tony McLean
Musical Supervision & Arranger Catherine Stornetta

Scenery & Lighting Design by Christopher Ostrom
Costume Design by Charles Schoomaker
Sound Design by John Tracey
Wigs & Make-Up by Bernie Ardia
Press Representative Joanne Barrett
Associate Producer James Healy
General Manager Joseph Guglielmo
Production Stage Manager Janet Howes

Judy Garland............Kathy St. George

Accompanied by Tim Evans at the piano

Late in her career --- it may have been the last she made --- Judy Garland starred in a movie-with-music called I COULD GO ON SINGING. (The script or story was credited to a brilliant pulp-fiction hack named John D. MacDonald, a role-model of mine.) It told the story of a "saloon singer" torn between a "real life" and the singing career at which she made a living. The neat point of it was that several times through the movie she sang songs --- either in a night-club, or a recording studio, or just rehearsing --- and though she had a realistic excuse to burst into song, each one made a relevent, telling commentary on whatever life-crisis she was wrestling with at the moment. It didn't have an up-beat ending, it was made long after the heyday of The Musical, and I doubt that even the hordes of adoring fans who worship Judy have ever paid any attention to it. I still think its Form deserves attention, and the life and background of its star intruded and amplified that film, just as it does the Kathy St. George/Tony McLean collaboration that opened on Judy Garland's birthday on Boston's Lyric Stage, undoubtedly warming up for an off-Broadway run.

This show asks (allows?) Kathy St. George to do something only a self-assured singing-star would even think of attempting: not merely to play a role, but actually to BE Someone Else. No matter when you see it, there will be people scattered all through the audience sighing and applauding and dying at the first bars of each song --- because they will be applauding the image of "Judy!" projected inside their skulls. Most of Kathy's job here is to Invoke those memories, to perform alongside them, almost as a CO-Star. And she's done a lot of homework and mirror-work to do it: The flips and chops of her arms and hands, the crouches and leaps, the face-forward bows are all usefully invocative (yeah it's a new word; get used to it) --- and they are external to the songs' meanings here, just as they were when Garland manufactured them for herself. And Catherine Stornetta's arrangements may be Judy's style --- but don't kid yourself. This isn't some externalized resuscitation of a dead star. That voice remains, every note, Kathy St. George's own, and the force held and unleashed in that half-pint powerhouse belongs to no one else, alive or dead, on any stage anywhere.

The show is in two short acts, the first of which probably surprising and unsettling to many fans. In it Garland tries to record a book of memoirs --- tries, and fails. Her emotions (and several glasses of wine) crowd into every incoherent attempt to make sense of things, to begin somewhere, to settle on something (like her children) she can hold on to, be proud of. She's 41, playing the huge Paladium in London, and terribly, inescapably alone in her phosphrescent-white pants-suit. The words circle over and over ideas, repeating her habit of recording over everything she's taped. There are hints, but no facts. This entire introduction is a portrait not of her life, but her emotional shakiness, her bewilderment at it all, and of the terrible loneliness of a performer with no audience for company.

It's the second-act "Concert" --- with a couple on-stage (okay, behind a screening trunk) costume-changes --- that creates the real, Larger Than Life Itself Judy Garland that everyone will recognize, hatchet-chopping arm-gestures and all. And it's here, in the sequence of songs, that anything like an internal autobiography comes clear. Just look at the series of titles:
"Once in A Lifetime"
"Almost like Being in Love"
"I'm Always Chasing Rainbows"
"You Made Me Love You"
"Get Happy"
"The Man That Got Away"
"Over The Rainbow"
"By Myself"

Those, and a few more of her Standards, in front of Christopher Ostrom's big and gaudy proscenium set, with Tim Evans' solid piano and a sold-out audience each one of which is a personal friend, is what Judy Garland --- and Kathy St. George --- is all about.
Break a leg in the Apple, Lady!

( a k a larry stark)

"And Now Ladies And Gentlemen, Miss Judy Garland" (10 June - 1 July)
@ The Lyric Stage of Boston, 140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (866)811-4111

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide