Regional Reviews: Seattle
A Magical Garland of Song & Story is Woven in
Also see David's review of Burn the Floor
Koch's concept launches from Moulton recalling her own introduction to her namesake, not so much watching Garland as Dorothy on TV showings of The Wizard of Oz, but, as a teen, watching the legendary, short-lived CBS Sunday night variety series with her mother, and gaining an interest and appreciation for what Garland's life and legend were all about. The Garland tune-stack is ingeniously (and often unexpectedly) interwoven with her life story, which Koch condenses masterfully. One example is that we only learn the names of two of Garland's husbands, significantly, the two who fathered her children, Liza (Vincente Minnelli) and Lorna and Joey (Sid Luft), and one might dare say Judy would just as soon have forgotten the names of her other exes as well. "Just In Time" becomes a tender lullaby to an infant Liza, and "The Man That Got Away" is a nod to the Oscar that got away from Garland for her brilliant turn in A Star Is Born. By necessity, certain Garland standards are omitted, but the most significant are all present, as the show plays out her early life and primary film career, through her firing from M-G-M in act one, with act two encapsulating her concert triumphs and TV appearances, through to her tragically early demise in 1969 at age 47.
Moulton bursts on with a bubbly "I Feel a Song Coming On", then follows up with an obscure but delicious Styne/Comden/Green "Comes Once in a Lifetime," which Garland only sang on her CBS series. Moulton's own style favors full-out belting, and this serves her well with numbers like the act one closing epiphany of "By Myself" when Garland's career appears over at the ripe old age of 29. But she impresses, perhaps all the more, on a plaintive, soft-sell of Charlie Chaplin's tender "Smile" and the wistful "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows." Moulton is at her most relaxed and playful saluting the "babes in barns" era of Garland/Mickey Rooney films on "I Got Rhythm/That's Entertainment" and is at her zenith when recounting the Garland 1960 Carnegie Hall triumph with a sassily satisfying "The Joint Is Really Jumping (Down at Carnegie Hall)" which also allows pianist/conductor Gommels a moment of comedic spotlight to bask in.
Moulton may sing Garland, but she wisely never tries to emulate her. Last night, the star's least successful rendition was the rather forced "The Man That Got Away," which she needs to personalize more to score with. And shaking away the opening night nerves should help her better convince an audience to "Get Happy." But this tireless, people-pleasing performer rallied and finished strong with a tender "Over the Rainbow" and a slam-bang "Swanee." Judy won the opening nights audience's hearts and a well-deserved standing ovation.
The ebullient band members are all at top form, though volume and balance issues need to be resolved for the show to play to its maximum effect. Moulton, of any singer I know, doesn't need over-amplification; In fact, she could be heard easily with no miking all.
Judy Sings Judy deserves appreciative audiences through this limited run and should prosper in future bookings, whether the star is backed by a full band or just the exemplary Mr. Gommels on piano. Want to lose that long face? Just go see Judy Sings Judy and it's as good as guaranteed!
Judy Sings Judy at the Theatre at Meydenbauer Center, 11100 NE 6th St., Bellevue, September 16, 2010 at 7:30 pm, September 17 and 18 at 8pm, and September 19 at 2 pm. Tickets $15-$30.00. For information and reservations visit www.judysingsjudy.com.
See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.- David Edward Hughes