Tonight is the premiere night of this show and on paper it looked like it could be a complete hit or a disastrous miss. This is definitely a hit. This show is pretty much as the advertising copy states "The Songbook of Judy Garland", and there are some classic songs here by some of the finest writers and lyricists of 20th century music.
The show has the official backing of the Judy Garland estate and having Lorna Luft co-starring in the production pretty much ensures that there are no liberties taken here with the memory of Judy Garland or the affection that she still holds in the hearts and minds of an audience.
The word "star" is used far too often and far too easily these days, and anyone that wants to see the true meaning of the word in performing terms just needs to come along to this show and see what a huge body of high quality work Judy Garland left behind for the world over a lifetime of performing on stage, in films, television, concerts and as a recording star.
Thankfully tonight the easy approach to re-enact songs as scenes from the classic movies was avoided for many of the numbers and this approach is what makes this show work for me as this is a show in tribute of Judy Garland, her life and her music, but not a "tribute show".
The stage is a very effective use of screens showing old movie, stage and interview clips where appropriate, a small live band and a very simple but effective red and black colour scheme which also is used in the dresses and costumes throughout the show.
This is a show done properly. As well as Lorna Luft putting in some great performances on some classics such as "The Man Who Got Away", we also have the vocal talents of Louise Dearman (the only performer to date to have played both Elphaba and Glinda in Wicked), Rachel Stanley and Georgina Hagen. Male lead vocals are provided by Ray Quinn and Darren Bennett, and creative direction is by Arlene Phillips.
There are many high points in the show as we have some great talent on stage working with many of the classics from the "Great American Songbook" such as "Get Happy", "Easter Parade", Born In A Trunk" and many more.
One standout highlight from the show for me was Lorna and Louise covering the iconic duet between Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand from the Judy Garland television show in 1962.
Throughout the show many of the highs in the career of Judy Garland are covered - the early films, the classic 1954 "A Star is Born" film, the return to live concerts and the television shows. I can’t help feeling how emotional it must be for Lorna Luft though to come on stage just after we see her mother singing to her a song called "Lorna" on stage aged eight years old. The lyrics were specially written for her by Johnny Mercer.
What is only touched on here in the show is the strength and determination of Judy Garland as a person. There were no executive/A & R men masterminding her triumphant return to the concert stage or the television shows. Judy Garland went out herself and created her own work when it was needed.
Another very nice touch was the ending of the show itself with audio and film by Judy Garland herself singing "Over The Rainbow". A very nice touch as this is how the live concerts used to end. There is a small clip amongst the film montage at the end from a 1963 film called "I Could Go on Singing" Look this one out if you can as it has some great "on stage" performances from Judy.
This show is a respectful tribute to an iconic performer who captured the hearts of a whole generation. Hopefully this show will be a huge success and introduce the songs and work of Judy Garland to a whole new generation. It is often said, but sadly true here that "they just don’t make stars like this anymore".
Review by Tom King