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Judy Garland: I’m Still Here | Review

It might seem a bit odd for a show making its West End debut to start with ‘I’m Still Here’ (from the 1971 Stephen Sondheim musical Follies), but then again, in a way, it is something of a miracle that any of us are still here, given everything that’s happened in the world over the last few years. Debbie Wileman doesn’t just do covers of songs made famous by Judy Garland – amongst her repertoire were songs that Garland never recorded. But imagine if she had sung a song or two by The Beatles, or Amy Winehouse? The result is very enjoyable, and while nobody did Winehouse like Winehouse, hearing ‘Back to Black’ in the style of Garland was a unique experience.

Debbie Wileman in Judy Garland: I'm Still Here. Photo credit: Joseph Marzullo/The Stander Group.
Debbie Wileman in Judy Garland: I’m Still Here. Photo credit: Joseph Marzullo/The Stander Group.

A slight pity, then, that of all the various people Wileman thanked profusely, none of them thought to position a music stand at the front of the stage for her to put her crib sheet on. Her setlist was on the floor, which led to a running joke about having to bend down low whenever she needed to double-check what was next. Cue jokes about going to Specsavers and recollections about melting contact lenses on a warm day. Such adlibbing made Wileman quite the consummate performer. Having established a decent rapport with the audience, she responded to callouts (I can’t call them ‘heckles’, really, as the audience shoutouts were very supportive) very agreeably.

There’s a likeable down-to-earth nature about Wileman. I appreciated, for instance, her fake vomiting immediately after describing her career progress to date as her ‘journey’ – it is indeed the sort of word sometimes used by people who take themselves far too seriously. She speaks as Garland, too – though not all the time, and more was said about Wileman’s own upbringing and how members of her family sparked a love of Garland (amongst other actors and singers of Garland’s era) than about Garland herself.

As ever with shows of this kind, some in the audience might have been a tad disappointed that their ‘favourite’ song recorded by Judy Garland wasn’t included in the repertoire. But this was never meant to be a complete historic record in a single show, and anyway, why reprise Garland’s version of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ in a concert at the end of June? Wileman’s impersonations – plural – even stretch to a Welsh medium (well, a medium who spoke in a strong Welsh accent) who asserted that Amy Winehouse had been in touch with them to express her (Winehouse’s) approval of Wileman’s work.

I do, wonder, though, with gifted earrings going astray and delightful banter, whether this show ought to be in somewhere like Crazy Coqs, where we’d all be sat at tables sipping wine or whatever people like to drink. Mind you, Wileman was so thrilled that her producer had booked the Ambassadors Theatre that she took it upon herself to do some digging in to the venue’s history. The concert was, Wileman pointed out, badly timed as it coincided with an England football match in Euro 2024. On the other hand, paying tribute to Judy Garland during Pride in London weekend couldn’t have been more apt (‘Judy Garland as a gay icon’ has its own Wikipedia page). A charming and charismatic night out.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Debbie Wileman rose to fame during the pandemic after receiving worldwide praise for her impersonation videos of Shirley Bassey, Marilyn Monroe, Julie Andrews, Billie Holliday and Julie Garland. As the world was in lockdown, Debbie began posting ‘A Song A Day’ on Facebook, receiving millions of views, earning global acclaim, and winning her the 2020 BroadwayWorld Audience Award for Vocalist of the Year.

Shortly after, she embarked on a multi-city United States tour to celebrate Judy Garland’s 100th birthday, performing to sold-out crowds, standing ovations, and rave reviews in Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Los Angeles, Provincetown, and New York City’s iconic Carnegie Hall, for the latter of which she received the BroadwayWorld Award for Best Solo Special Event.

Scott Stander presents
Judy Garland: “I’m Still Here” starring Debbie Wileman
Ambassadors Theatre
West Street, London WC2H 9ND
Sunday 30 June 2024 at 7:00pm

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