As the title implies, the show is structured around Judy's iconic 1961 concert at Carnegie Hall, the recording of which won tons of awards (according to the fabulously detailed timeline in the program). Judy (expertly personified by Jody Briskey, who originated the role and has played it numerous times) takes the stage and sings all of her hits, from "When You're Smiling" to "Over the Rainbow" and everything in between, including "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart," "You Made Me Love You," "Get Happy," and "The Man That Got Away." But this is no mere tribute concert. Each songs triggers memories for Judy of her often troubled life, and then we, and she, watch the scenes play out - some happy, but more often painful. It's as if she's haunted by the ghosts of her past - parents, ex-husbands, studio execs, everyone wanting something from her and wanting her to be and do what they think is best. But despite all the pressures, this concert, and her life's work, was an artistic triumph. Her spirit never faltered, even when her body eventually did; she died just eight years after this highlight of her career, after decades of drug use and mental and physical health problems. This play does not shy away from the hard times, which only makes the celebration of Judy's accomplishments and life that much sweeter.
|a tale of four Judys (Elena Glass, Lilian Carlson, Jody Briskey,
and Nicola Wahl, photo by Rick Spaulding)
Everyone in the five-person ensemble ably plays multiple roles as they fill out Judy's universe. Three three actors return from the original production, although some in different roles - Cathleen Fuller most notably as a gossip columnist, Norah Long (the original young Judy) as Judy's loving but controlling mother, and Peter Moore as LB Mayer himself. They're joined by two actors who are new to the play - Adam Whisner as husband #3 Sid Luft, alternately supportive and abusive, and Shad Olsen as Judy's father and later her charming (but gay and philandering) second husband Vincente Minnelli.
|Jody Briskey is Judy Garland
(photo by Rick Spaulding)
The set consists of an elegant curved sloping ramp with swooping lights overhead. There's not much in the way of set pieces, allowing the actors and music to create the world of Judy's overlapping memories. The period costumes recreate some of Judy's most iconic looks - a gingham dress, a sparkly black cocktail dress, trim black pants with a bright sequined jacket. (Scenic design by Kate Sutton-Johnson, costume design by E. Amy Hill.)
Beyond the Rainbow: Garland at Carnegie Hall continues at the HERstory Theatre in downtown St. Paul through December 22. Whether you've seen it before or are new to this particular incarnation of Judy's story, it's a wonderful tribute to the legend and the woman.