Monday, July 22, 2013

Judy Garland Lives at Arts Garage

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Jody Briskey Photo by Amy Pasquantonio

Judy Garland: A Life in Music

By Skip Sheffield

Judy Garland was already an old pro- a seasoned trouper- when at age 15 she performed her career-launching role of Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” for MGM Studios.
You will learn this and much more at the entertaining and informative “Beyond the Rainbow: Garland at Carnegie Hall,” playing through Aug. 11 at the Arts Garage, 180 N.W. First St., Delray Beach.
The proud papa of “Garland at Carnegie Hall,” playwright William Randall Beard, was in the audience opening night. Randy, as he is informally known, is justifiably proud of his labor of love, which has been a work-n-progress since its opening at Florida Stage in 2006.
The artistic director then and now is Louis Tyrrell, who has worked closely with Beard and the History Theatre of Minnesota, which is the original producer of the show.
The current production under the direction of Ron Peluso is much expanded and improved over the show that played Manalapan. Featured is an onstage band led by pianist Jimmy Martin with Dave Wilkinson on stand-up bass, Tom Jaworski on reeds and Julie Jacobs on drums.
The character of Judy Garland is so big it takes two women to play her. As the title indicates, the show is set at Garland’s famous comeback show at Carnegie Hall in 1961, but through flashbacks it chronicles Judy’s life from being “born in a trunk’ to vaudeville parents in Minnesota in 1922.
The younger Judy of “Wizard of Oz’ fame is played by Norah Long. The older, much-married, alcoholic, drug-addled, none-too-wiser Judy is played by Jody Briskey.
Both Long and Briskey have been perfecting their roles over the course of years. Long nicely captures the na├»ve, eager-to-please, easily-dominated Judy. Briskey is uncanny in her representation of the sorrowful, battered Judy of her later life. Even more uncanny is Briskey’s singing voice, which is an eerie echo of the tragic singer who died of a drug overdose at age 47 in 1969.
The most important characters in Garland’s life are portrayed by three actors. Peggy O’Connell is her domineering mother, Ethel Gumm, and most entertainingly, the catty gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper.
Clark A. Cruikshank plays autocratic MGM Studio head Louis B. Mayer, who became a father figure after the demise of her birth father. Mayer became a controlling force in Garland's career; signing her to a long-term movie contract when she was only 13. Cruikshank plays another, more sympathetic character, Sid Luft, who was father to two of Garland’s children and a force in re-kindling her career.
Peter Moore plays Garland’s beloved, ill-fated father Frank Gumm and movie director Vincent Minnelli, father of her famous daughter Liza and second of her five husbands.
All the biographical material is played out between a parade of Garland’s greatest hits as performed at the Carnegie Hall concert. The songs are presented to complement the story line, from happy (“When You’re Smiling”) to biographical (“Born in a Trunk”) to wistful “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to despairing (“Stormy Weather,” “The Man That Got Away”).
I am not a Judy Garland cultist, but I must say “Beyond the Rainbow” is an extraordinary show about a once-in-a-lifetime talent.
Tickets are $30-$40 and may be reserved by calling 561-450-6357 or by going to www.artsgarage.org.





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