note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
There was no tornado in Stoneham last Saturday - just a small bundle of dynamite that ignited Stoneham Theatre’s stage for almost two hours.
When Stoneham native Kathy St. George initially presented her touching tribute to her idol, Judy Garland, at the Boston Lyric Stage Co. in 2007, the 4-foot, 11-inch powerhouse left the audience wanting more. And they got it, not once, but twice, in an award-winning revision in 2009, at Stoneham Theatre, and now, again, in Stoneham, with this tweaked version, featuring Garland’s and St. George’s boundless energy and larger-than-life talent.
In 2009, St. George’s tribute was based on a fictitious, posthumous letter from Garland to her greatest love – her audience – and her recreation of Garland’s command, comeback performance at Carnegie Hall in 1961. In this production, appearing at Stoneham Theatre through July 22, it’s St. George who writes a love-fan letter to the incomparable Miss G., that also traces Garland’s career through anecdotes, while performing her greatest hits. “I never got to write Judy a fan letter, so this show is my letter to her,” she says. “She [Garland] had no glamor, only magic.”
Luckily, St. George has many of the former award-winning staff with her again. There’s no multimedia gimmickry, no mind-boggling, jaw-dropping, razzle-dazzle props, or large-scale ensemble numbers. They’re unnecessary, given Scott Edmiston’s brilliant direction, Karen Perlow’s lighting, Ilyse Robbins’ fantastic choreography that uncannily simulates Garland’s gestures and dance routines, Janie Howland’s minimalist set, and John A. Stone’s sound design. St. George and Music Director Jim Rice are an easygoing duo that captivates throughout the first act. In the second act, seven fabulous tuxedoed musicians join Rice on stage, while Chip Schoonmaker’s costumes make St. George appear like Garland incarnate. Calling Garland “the little girl with the big voice,” St. George could easily be referring to herself, because the two women share startling characteristics. Both are petite, have short brown hair, huge personalities, voices and versatility.
St. George says although Garland appeared to be a tragic figure, she was well-known among her co-stars for her witty sense of humor.
St. George opens low-key, with Rice at the piano, in the shadows, on stage, as she gushes about her admiration for the immortal Miss G. She says when she was younger, she’d sit for hours, listening to her records. St. George threads autobiographical and early biographical information about Garland, nee Frances Gumm, youngest of three daughters, born into a midwestern vaudeville traveling family act. “We were a lousy act,” she quips. From the time Garland was 3 years old, she performed on stage, for most of her short-lived 47 years. “I Was Born in a Trunk,” she sings, sprinkling stories leading to Garland’s lucky break auditioning for the role of Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”.
Standing before a large cabinet laden with fan photos of Garland, a rack of clothing, a trunk and large folded screen to hide behind while making on-stage costume changes, St. George sings 20 of Garland’s big hits, such as “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart,” “You Made Me Love You,” “The Trolley Song,” “Be A Clown,” and performs solo in “Me and My Shadow,” accompanied only by Rice. He also sings a duet as Garland’s popular co-star, Mickey Rooney. St. George tosses in eyebrow-raising anecdotes about Garland’s co-stars, including Lucille Ball and the flawlessly beautiful Grace Kelly, and contrastingly, her roles in dramatic hit movies, such as “A Star is Born”.
St. George closes the first act with a hilarious, five-minute, breathless run-through of the plot and all characters of “The Wizard of Oz,” that brings the audience to its feet, cheering.
St. George doesn’t dwell on Garland’s losses, tragedies, her five marriages, and barely mentions Liza Minnelli, her daughter with second husband, Director Vincent Minnelli. Sadly, she reports Garland’s death from an accidental overdose, June 22, 1969.
In the second act, St. George launches into a glamorous, glittery, repertoire of Garland’s greatest hits, in her comeback concert, including “When You’re Smiling,” “It’s Almost Like Being in Love,” “Chicago,” and a wistful version of “Over the Rainbow,” followed by a post-finale, rip-roaring “Swanee”.
BOX INFO: Revised, one-woman,two-act tribute to Judy Garland, co-written by director Scott Edmiston and star Kathy St. George, appearing through July 22 at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main St., Stoneham. Showtimes: Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3,8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets: $44; seniors,$40; students, $20. Call 781-279-2200 or visit stonehamtheatre.org.