Creative Director: Arlene Phillips
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
Songs that were made famous by the legendary Judy Garland need no introduction. Brought back to life 46 years after the star’s death by her daughter Lorna Luft, they still enchant, although it has to be said that much of the enchantment of this piece of musical theatre – and I use the term loosely – is owed to the wonderful film footage depicting the star’s life. Poignantly evocative and well-chosen scenes depict the ups and downs of the life of the singer and comedienne who is still regarded, despite the tragedy that dodged her life, as one of the greatest of all times.
Songs from the many films and musicals that made her famous are sung by a cast headed by Luft, although the star does not make her entry until three-quarters of the way through the first part. Opening with Born in a Trunk, greeted by rapturous applause, and segueing into a jazzy Swannee and Dixieland, Luft proves that she is still in fine voice in her musical numbers, sprinkled with anecdotes told with both candour and love, proving that – like her famous Mom – she has a ripe sense of humour. Singling out one or two of the memorable songs: a sympathetic rendering of Stormy Weather is among my favourites, with The Trolley Song imaginatively staged and sung with brio and a great zippy Zing Go the Strings of my Heart. Plus – not surprisingly – a film clip of Garland herself as Mr Monotony.
In the second half, a clip of Garland’s duet with, at the time, the newly emerging Barbra Streisand is the background to a duet of the same sung by Luft with Louise Dearman, who performs a significant number of the core pieces. For my money, while it should have sent a few shivers down the spine, it failed to do so. Dearman, who recently starred in Wicked in the West End, has a strong voice but tends to harshness at times. This could in fairness be in order to makes sure that the words are heard above the overloud backing track – such a pity that this touring show could not be performed to live music, which would have lifted it to the realms of star quality. To be sure, there are live musicians on stage for part of the time, but only three of them – a token gesture.
The likeable X-Factor star Ray Quinn brings boyish appeal in the leading male rôle. A major part of the show is performed by a talented ensemble, who sing with aplomb and perform with skill and enthusiasm in numbers skilfully choreographed by Arlene Phillips.
The grand finale, set against an appropriate backdrop, is of Garland’s voice singing Somewhere over the Rainbow, designed – I suspect – to bring a lump to the throat and tears to the eyes.
N.B. trouper that she is – a chip off the old block, one might say – Luft gives no clue that the tour has been cut short owing to the re-emergence of breast cancer that necessitates her flying back to the States for treatment.
Runs until Saturday June 27th 2015 as part of a UK tour.