The legendary entertainer Judy Garland once said, “My history of my life is in my songs.”
Beyond the Rainbow: Garland at Carnegie Hall, a musical opening this weekend at Delray Beach’s Arts Garage, features 24 of Garland’s greatest hits, including Get Happy, That’s Entertainment, The Trolley Song, and of course, Over the Rainbow, to offer an unforgettable musical portrait of the child star who captivated a nation.
The show, written by William Randall Beard with musical arrangements by David Lohman, uses Garland’s landmark 1961 concert at New York City’s Carnegie Hall as the setting for the musical, which was premiered by St. Paul’s History Theatre in 2002 and debuted locally by Florida Stage in 2006.
But, points out Arts Garage’s Artistic Director of Theatre Lou Tyrrell, the production actually makes use of two Judys: One on the stage at Carnegie Hall (Jody Briskie) and the young girl in her mind (Nora Long) as she relives the most tumultuous moments of her career.
“From Hollywood child star to the icon who gave it all on the stage of Carnegie Hall, we felt that her triumphs and tragedies were our own, and we embraced her as if she were a member of our own family….It’s the story and the music of an era to be cherished and savored,” says Tyrrell.
Woven into Garland’s concert performance are the specters of her past, including her late mother and father, husbands, friends, co-workers and critics who dart in and out of her consciousness, as portrayed by three supporting actors.
Tyrrell credits Beard with a theatrical portrait that avoids many of the stereotypes and caricatures that cloud contemporary memories of the performer.
“Every drag queen has done Judy,” he admitted, “That is the challenge. It’s so important to try to find the human being underneath the veneer of familiarity that any one of these iconic celebrities may have become.”
Tyrrell explained, “The job of a very talented drag queen to effectively caricature— it’s not a dirty word by any means—is to play Judy’s music and lip sync. There have been some who actually sing her material and do it well, but that’s why they call it impersonation. In the theatre, when there isn’t a cross gender issue or application, the thing that is most effective is to not imitate, but to become that person.”
He credits the genius in Briskie’s interpretation, which earned the actress an Ivey Award, Minnesota’s equivalent to South Florida’s Carbonell Award. Tyrrell calls her a “quintessential talent who absolutely channels” Garland’s distinctive personality, mannerisms and singing. Long, on the other hand, relies on the story to guide her interpretation of the young actress, an equally legitimate approach.
The setting at Arts Garage, which also doubles as a cabaret and concert venue, lends itself to the non-traditional performance. The action is not limited to the stage, but moves into the audience where actors will actually be seated at tables.
“It’s going to be a unique piece of theater,” he said, “because we’ll be able to use the cabaret environment to find the best way to deliver the play. That’s something we haven’t explored (at Arts Garage) yet.”
He also reminds audiences they can bring food and wine to the performance, lending to the unique festive atmosphere at the venue, whether they’re enjoying theater, jazz concerts or cabaret.
If You GoBeyond the Rainbow: Garland at Carnegie HallArts Garage, 180 NE 1st St., Delray Beach
Wed.-Fri. 7:30 p.m., Sat. 2 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. through Aug. 11
Tickets $30-40 at ArtsGarage.org