Judy Garland is an icon of stage and screen. For many people, the phrase “Friend of Dorothy” is centered around her portrayal of Dorothy Gale in the 1939 movie ‘The Wizard of Oz’ where her performance as a young girl lost in a world outside her own won her many admirers. She was also a very tragic figure in many ways, with a personal life which would keep the cast of Corrie busy in storylines for years. All this and much more was explored in “Get Happy the Judy Garland Story” at the Jermyn Street Theatre last night.
Presented by talented musical theatre actress Sally Jones, “Get Happy” is a wonderful telling of Judy’s story using words, images and, of course the music she has become famous for. The stage is perfectly laid out with a simple piano on one side and a small table, chair and screen on the other. Musical Director David Lane, immaculate in black tie, comes out and starts the show with a montage of songs accompanied by projected pictures of Judy herself on the rear wall of the stage. As the overture ends, Sally appears – looking absolutely stunning in a floor length ruby red sequined gown – complete with matching Ruby slippers – and starts the show off with the title song ‘Get Happy’. This is when the audience realise that they are not going to be seeing an impersonator. Sally makes each song her own which, personally I thought was a much better idea than just someone trying to be Judy.
In between songs, Sally chats to the audience about Judy’s life. What I thought was really good was that she didn’t hold back in telling Judy’s tale. Writer/Director Leslie Lee has obviously researched the subject well and, whilst it would be so easy to just do a simpering review of Judy’s life, it is essential to know everything – warts and all – to get an idea of this troubled star and what made her tick. So we learnt about her overbearing showbiz obsessed mother – by the sounds of it, she made Gypsy’s Momma Rose seem like Mother Teresa – the insults from MGM executives and her dependence on medication and alcohol to get through things. It is a fascinating story – I have spent quite a while on Wikipedia reading about Judy since the show – and Sally delivers the story wonderfully mixing tales with appropriate songs from Judy’s repertoire. Again, the temptation to do the obvious was avoided so for example, when ‘The Wizard of Oz’ was talked about, the song used to illustrate it was not the one that everyone thought it would be.
All in all “Get Happy the Judy Garland Story” is a really lovely way to spend a couple of hours in the company of old friends – both Judy and Sally. Out of a potential song list of 524 tunes recorded by Judy, most of my favourites were in the show, including ‘The Man That Got Away’ which had me blubbing silently as I listened to the haunting lyrics delivered with real passion by Sally who really emotionally committed to every note of every song she gave us to deliver a spellbinding performance. If I was really picky, I did feel that both Judy’s songs and Sally’s voice should have been on a big stage with a full orchestra, although I absolutely loved the intimacy of a small theatre where I could really appreciate the lyrics and wonderful delivery of a fabulous and truly fitting tribute to the woman described by Fred Astaire as ‘The greatest entertainer that ever lived’
Review by Terry Eastham
Having received rave reviews in Canada, the shows are in London as part of a UK national tour. The Garland show (GET HAPPY THE JUDY GARLAND STORY) will be at Jermyn Street Theatre for one night only on Sunday 26th April and the Piaf show (NO REGRETS – THE LIFE STORY & SONGS OF EDITH PIAF) will be for 2 nights at Leicester Square Theatre on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd May.
Monday 27th April 2015