★★★★★ | Judy!, The Arts Theatre
If you were off from gay school the week that they covered gay icons then this is the play for you. If you’re already well versed in Garland mania then you’ll love this too. Judy is a potted history of the life of Judy Garland told with wit and warmth from the clever perspective of having three Judy Garlands on stage at different points in her life.
Judy Garland was the child stage actress and star of pappy films who hit the big time after landing the role of Dorothy in the iconic film ‘The Wizard of Oz’. Her frenetic delivery on stage, her fragility and her belting unique voice made her a public favourite in spite of her flakiness, late stage arrivals and occasional no-shows. Behind the spotlight, she was a troubled figure and the familiar story of the Hollywood legend played out: psychiatric problems, drug and alcohol abuse, multiple marriages and an untimely death from a Barbiturate overdose aged 47 in London in 1969.
Ray Rackham presents us with three Judys. Firstly we have hard drinking and waspish middle-aged Judy struggling to keep her temper, plagued by debts and desperately trying to make a failing TV show work. Secondly, we have pill-popping mid-life Judy: mother to Liza Minnelli, box office poison, about to risk everything by embarking on marriage number three and throwing all her remaining cash into a risky venture of a grand show on Broadway. Finally, we have awkward teenage Judy, dominated by her pushy show business mother and being used and abused by the film studios.
The device works well and showcases not only a number of songs but manages to portray both uplifting and funny side of Garland as well as the not so joyous times. There’s a cast of twelve with cast members doubling up as the live band too. Oh and the Judys? They’re pitch perfect and totally on point both in mannerisms and vocal style. They’ve clearly had great direction from Ray Rackham (part of the team behind the hit musical ‘Apartment 40c’) and spent a lot of time on YouTube studying Ms Garland’s unique style.
This is a great show in its third incarnation after successful runs as ‘Through the Mill’ at London Theatre Workshop and Southwark Playhouse. It a piece that’s tightly written and will both move you and fill you with equal parts of joy and sadness. Go see it.