Director: Christopher Manoe
Reviewer: Rebecca Cohen
She is a Hollywood great, a true icon, and a talent whose magic on screen and stage is as powerful now as it was years ago. Safe to say then, that portraying and celebrating the achievements of the one and only Judy Garland is no easy task. And yet The Songbook of Judy Garland does it to perfection – combining flawless choreography, with stunning vocals on a clever studio-style set.
Think of a show paying homage to the songs of a superstar, and it can evoke fears of amateurishness and poor imitations. Think how many times you’ve seen a tribute act and thought “yes, they are good, but they will never be as good as…”. But during this stunning production, while the artists are not Judy Garland, neither do they pretend to be either – ensuring her music is performed with the respect it deserves.
The tight cast is not only made up of top performers, including Dancing On Ice winner and effortlessly cool showman Ray Quinn, Judy’s dancers The Boyfriends and West End star Louise Dearman, but also Judy’s very own flesh and blood – her proud daughter Lorna Luft. Luft’s vocals and stories combined with never before seen film clips and interviews play a touching, funny and heartwarming part in ensuring Judy’s legacy lives on. Projections of Luft’s mum are played throughout the production, not only complimenting routines on the stage but standing alone – once again putting Judy back where she belongs: centre stage and as the star of the show.
This is and will be the only Judy Garland performance in the world authorised by the Judy Garland Estate, and boy does it show. The only disappointment on the opening night at Manchester was the fact the auditorium wasn’t full to bursting.
The production, which has live musicians on stage and the fabulous Arlene Phillips as creative director, features classic songs from some of Judy’s hugely popular films. Not one number is a disappointment and, while there are stand out sections – The Trolley Song, Stepping Out, Couple of Swells and a breathtaking finale – you cannot help but “get happy” from beginning to end. The energetic tap dancing, the rapport on the stage, the stunning duet between Dearman and Luft that emulates the same number performed by Judy and Barbara Streisand in 1963 – all play a part in making this a truly unforgettable show. Kudos must also go to director Christopher Manoe and all the other cast members, including the stunning Georgina Hagen, the comedic Rachel Stanley and the fabulous Darren Bennett.
It’s a trip down memory lane; it’s pure show business and it has every single audience member on their feet. The Songbook of Judy Garland has that rare ability to get you leaving the theatre on a complete and utter high and deserves all the support it can get for creating such a respectful yet captivating celebration. Now that’s entertainment!
Runs until 30 May 2015 | Image: Contributed