Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Dear Miss Garland"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark

"Dear Miss Garland"

Kathy St. George

Directed by Scott Edmiston

Musical Direction by Jim Rice

Choreography by Ilyse Robbins
Scenic Design by Janie Howland
Lighting Design by Karen Perlow
Costume Design by Charles Schoonmaker
Sound Engineer John Stone
Props Master Kathryn Kawecki
Production Manager Dave Brown
Deck Chief Meghan Fisher
Technical Director Jason Cotting
Technical Crew Brianna Conrad, Brian Peddie
Production Stage Manager L. Arkansas Light

Solo Piano...............Jim Rice
Trumpet..................Tim Cote
Woodwinds............Mike Crowley
Woodwinds Sub...Heather Katz-Cote
Woodwinds Sub..........Jeri Sykes
Bass..................Rob Simring
Drums................Mike Crowley

It takes guts and a LOT of talent to upstage a legend. Kathy St. George has both.

She proved in an earlier show ("And Now, Miss Judy Garland") that she can re-create that star on stage --- the vocal style and arrangements, the over-emphatic hands and elbows, the joyous rhythms and soul-wrenching ballads, the bounces from pin-spot to full stage, from ebullient song-seller to little-girl-lost --- in fact, a whole second-act of "Dear Miss Garland" summarizes the 1967 Carnegie Hall concert, with a seven-piece orchestra behind her. But in all of act one, which is a homage, it's Kathy herself that's always center-stage. Yes, she can slip on the other persona for a moment here and there, and the songs are really someone else's in the popular mind; but the inflections, the pauses, the delicate differences in tone and emphasis --- these belong to St. George alone. They are not re-creations or evocations; they are more meditations on that great star's life, and one woman's emotional response.

Scott Edmiston (Kathy's "co-conceiver") is listed merely as "Director" here, but his invisible fingerprints are everywhere. The show has a crisp, smooth flow from biographical factoids to direct quotes to snatches of monologue out of movies, classic and obscure --- all of which invoke a life without ever "duplicating" it. It is all "commentary on" by a loving fan.

Janie Howland's two sets are as different as the internal/external style of each part. Act one has a tall, gauzy backdrop hung to the top with costumes and dresses and memory. To the left sits Jim Rice at solo piano. At the center two high mirrored doors open into a cluttered props-closet, while stage-left stands an trunk, big enough to be born in, with an open lid tall enough for a tiny performer to hide behind. At one point, out of them spill a five-minute re-enactment of "The Wizard of Oz" with Kathy whizzing through every part and each significant scene like a projectionist on speed. Act two is a bare stage edged by three outlines of lights, the orchestra as live set-pieces, and a bare backdrop on which Karen Perlow's spectacular lighting- effects play.

One of the lesser-known songs in this show suggests a singer is only alive when performing, and afterwards nothing is left but the song. Frances Ethel Gumm made forty-odd movies and had an unforgettable concert career, and I hope Kathy S. George's moving memoir moves on from the Stoneham Theatre to someplace in New York --- if only to show the world what kind of theater people make up here around Boston. It is a glowing tribute to a life that began "born in a trunk in the Princess Theatre in Pocatella Idaho."

"Dear Miss Garland" (4 - 28 June)
395 Main Street, STONEHAM, MA
1 (781) 279-2200

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide