Judy: The Songbook of Judy Garland

May 9 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩    Luft for life

Playhouse, Edinburgh: Fri 9 – Sat 10 May 2015

When you’re Lorna Luft, the shadow of Judy Garland is inescapable. The Hollywood legend introduced her daughter to the world in a touching segment on her TV show, singing a new song, Lorna, to her.

As she grew up, Luft developed a mean pair of pipes herself and she’s gone on to make her living singing and acting around the world. And while she’s never traded on her mother’s name, she’s going to want to sing her best-known songs occasionally, the songs the public wants to hear.

Lorna Luft and The Boyfriends - Luke Field Wright, Andrew Hamshire, Sam Stanley, Alec Mann. Photo: JGSB

Lorna Luft and The Boyfriends – Luke Field Wright, Andrew Hamshire, Sam Stanley, Alec Mann. Photo: publicity

So Edinburgh Playhouse hosts Judy, The Songbook of Judy Garland, before it sets off round the UK, in which a couple of dozen tunes associated with the star are performed, and occasionally reinvented, by Luft and friends.

Said friends include West End star Louise Dearman, whose rich voice more than does her songs justice, and Darren Bennett (no, not THAT one, Strictly fans), a theatre veteran with a mile-wide grin and a mean way with a dance step.

There’s also former Brookside star and Dancing on Ice winner Ray Quinn, who tries hard but isn’t quite up there with the rest of the cast when it comes to singing for the theatre – he gives us Putting on the Ritz in several keys, none of which seem the right one. His dancing is better, but he still seems underpowered given his billing.

Rachel Stanley and Georgina Hagen are likeable presences and can certainly sell a song, while Alexander Evans and Jeff Smyth give strong support, especially when Dearman leads The Trolley Song and On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe. The harmonies courtesy of musical director Colin R Freeman really are stupendous, recalling the heyday of the MGM Studio Chorus.

And dancers the Boyfriends provide Hollywood-style pizazz, circling the singers amiably and energetically. There’s some terrific tap on display, along with plenty of slinky moves, thanks to choreographers Douglas Mills and Richard Roe (tap).

Luft is luminous

And if you think it’s taken a while for me to get back to Luft, that reflects my quibble with this show – it’s about a dozen numbers in before the main attraction shows up, and you can feel the impatience. Sure, the featured players provide value for money, and the clips from Garland’s movies projected on Colin Rozée’s superb stage set bring back the memories, but this is sold as a Lorna Luft tribute to her mother.

Ray Quinn and Louise Dearman. Photo: Publicity

Ray Quinn and Louise Dearman. Photo: Publicity

When she does finally emerge, the show comes alive. Luft is luminous, a powerful presence every bit as skilled with a song as Garland. She proves this immediately with a hypnotic Come Rain or Come Shine, followed by a pairing of Born in a Trunk and Rockabye Your Baby, and Act One closer Swanee.

The second half has a lot more Luft and is all the better for it – when she’s not on stage, singing and sharing stories, the Judy Garland Songbook remains entertaining but the magic isn’t there. So while Dearman’s Stormy Weather is heartbreaking; Hagen’s Johnny One-Note leaves you wanting more; and Dearman and Bennett’s But Not For Me/Embraceable You is gorgeous – they all lack the sheer star power Luft brings.

Luft belts out Chicago with electrifying gusto and total control, while a medley with Dearman echoing an iconic TV encounter between Garland and Barbra Streisand is sheer delight.

But it’s The Man That Got Away that provides the evening’s most memorable moment. Luft generally doesn’t try to sound like her mother, because there’s no need – she owns her talent. But in this, for once, she truly channels Garland, allowing the spirit of her mother to inform voice and delivery: the intonation, tone, phrasing, it’s like having the icon back.

The close of the show sees Luft and her ensemble with backs to the audience, staring at clips of Garland as a recording of Over the Rainbow fills the theatre. The melodic clarity of Garland singing that lovely standard never fails to thrill, but as a finale to a piece of live theatre, it disappoints.

With this much talent available to directors Christopher Manoe and David King, there should be a humdinger of a closing number. Given the cast’s skill with harmonies, a choral interpretation of Over the Rainbow would likely be just the ticket – an interpretation to complement, rather than compete with, Garland’s unassailable version.

As it is, you leave the theatre appreciating once more the remarkable woman that was Judy Garland, but wanting to hear more from her younger daughter. If Judy was watching Lorna Luft, you can bet she’d be very proud.

Running time: 2 hours 20 mins (including interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, Greenside Place, EH1 3AA
Friday 8, Saturday 9 May 2015
Evenings: 7.30pm; Saturday matinee: 2.30pm
Tickets and information from: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/judy-the-judy-garland-story/edinburgh-playhouse/

Judy: The Songbook of Judy Garland on tour:
May 8 – 9 Edinburgh
0844 871 3014 Book online
May 11 – 13 Rhyl
The Pavilion Theatre
01745 33 00 00 Book online
May 14 – 16 York
Grand Opera House
0844 871 3024 Book online
May 18 – 19th Bradford
The Alhambra Theatre
01274 432000 Book online
May 21 – 23 Birmingham
New Alexandra Theatre
0844 871 3011 Book online
May 26 – 27 Kings Lynn
The Corn Exchange
01553 764864 Book online
May 28 – 30 Manchester
Palace Theatre
0844 871 3019 Book online
June 2 – 6 Glasgow
Theatre Royal
0844 871 7647 Book online
June 8 – 10 Liverpool
0844 871 3017 Book online
June 12 –13 Torquay
Princess Theatre
0844 871 3023 Book online
June 16– 20 Wimbledon
New Wimbledon Theatre
0844 871 7646 Book online
June 23 – 24 Truro
Hall for Cornwall
01872 262466 Book online
June 25 – 27 Cardiff
New Theatre
029 2087 8889 Book online
June 29 – July 4 Sheffield
Lyceum Theatre
0114 249 6000 Book online
July 7 – 11 Brighton
Theatre Royal
0844 871 7627 Book online
July 13 – 14 Watford
0845 075 3993 Book online
July 16 – 18 Bromley
The Churchill Theatre
0844 871 7620 Book online
July 20 – 22 Darlington
Civic Theatre
01325 486555 Book online
July 23 – 25 Oxford
New Theatre
0844 8713020 Book online
July 28 – August 1 Woking
New Victoria Theatre
0844 871 7645 Book online


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