Judy Garland tribute show at Holmes
Once in a generation, an entertainer emerges with such extraordinary talent that they transcend their work and make the transition into an icon.
Minnesota native Judy Garland was one such talent. A child actor and vaudeville performer turned Hollywood star, she captivated a nation with her incredible talent, rollercoaster life style, and ultimately, her tragic death.
Join the Historic Holmes Theatre this Thursday, June 13 at 7:30 p.m. for a celebration of her life and music, as the History Theatre of St. Paul presents “Beyond the Rainbow.”
As Judy herself once said, “My life is in my music,” and this is exactly the story that playwright Randy Beard tells in this memorable blend of music and drama.
Beard deftly weaves stories from Garland’s childhood and rise to stardom into a recreation of her legendary 1961 concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
“It’s really two shows in one,” explains Norah Long, who is one of two different actresses portraying Garland in the play. “It’s a concert, with this play swirling around it.
“As Judy begins to sing these songs, it triggers memories from her life — and those memories also frame some of the song choices she makes.”
The five actors and four musicians stay on stage throughout much of the play, “in neutral,” Long said, “coming to life as each memory is triggered.”
Long portrays Judy in the flashback sequences, while castmate Jody Briskey portrays her in the Carnegie Hall performance.
The other three actors each portray multiple roles, from her parents, Ethel and Francis Gumm, to other iconic figures of the era including fellow child actor Mickey Rooney, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer.
Interestingly, neither Judy’s siblings, nor her own children, appear in the play — though her children are frequently mentioned.
From her early years as Frances Gumm, growing up as a vaudeville performer in Grand Rapids, Minn., to her rise as a “child star” at Hollywood’s MGM Studios, and later as an award-winning dramatic actress and recording artist, Garland truly was a “larger than life” figure.
But her fame came at a high price, Long said.
Like many “child stars” of the studio era, Judy really never had a childhood or the privacy that is afforded most people.
Criticized frequently for being “chubby,” by Mayer and others, Garland bought into that negative self-image, and the fact that she and her fellow child actors were routinely fed drugs to help them stay awake during long days at the studio, and then to sleep at night, also played into the issues with drugs and alcohol that would follow her into adulthood.
“This play highlights the negative messages, the lies and misconceptions that are ladled on her, about her weight, her attractiveness, this, that and the other,” Long said. “The playwright’s intention was not to reinforce those messages, but to show how ludicrous they were.”
Yet it’s surprising how many audiences that have seen the play in the past have bought into the damaging messages about self-image that were fed to Garland for most of her life.
“The audience would seem to hear Mr. Mayer talk about Judy being pudgy, and just accept that she was, without paying attention to the truth of the matter,” Long said.
But those dark moments in Garland’s life are just a part of the narrative.
“I think the great thing about this piece is that it does have something for everyone,” Long said. “You’re going to see Judy the way you remember her, and then you’re going to see the Judy behind the scenes.
“It’s an interesting thing to play her from that perspective, because I’m not playing the beloved icon, I’m playing the Judy who really struggled with life. It can be a difficult thing for audiences to wrap their heads around. But the nice thing is that you get to see that truth, but you’re also getting to see the joy, the victorious side of her career.”
Some of those high points include her iconic performances of songs like “Somewhere, Over the Rainbow,” “Get Happy,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart,” and “The Man that Got Away,” just to name a few.
Tickets for Thursday’s show are $20 for adults and $10 for students, and available at the Historic Holmes Theatre Box Office (806 Summit Ave.), by calling 218-844-7469, online at www.dlccc.org or at the door the night of the concert.
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.