Judy Strikes Back
Judith Wright Centre
Judith Wright Centre Performance Space
August 13 – 15 2015
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Will the real Judy Garland please stand up?
When you’ve lived the life I’ve lived, when you’ve loved and suffered, and been madly happy and desperately sad – well, that’s when you realise you’ll never be able to set it all down. Maybe you’d rather die first.
– Judy Garland
Judy Garland wasn’t born in a trunk and didn’t want to be remembered as a tragic figure. Bernadette Meenach’s Judy Strikes Back attempts to dispel the negative stories surrounding Garland’s life and instead focus on her talent, her work.
Meenach is a fine Judy Garland – strong and soulful, and very funny – she gives us one of the better versions of the iconic woman with a good balance of fragility and hard won diva sass. She also acknowledges the other versions, and the actors who created them, dismissing them with a toss of her head and half a wry smile. It’s a very good study of the woman we think we know so well.
On the ivories, in role as Garland’s musical director, Mort Lindsay, is Morgan Chalmers, who effortlessly creates the opening magical moments to set the scene, as fingertips connect with keys. The rapport between these two feels authentic.
One of the highlights of the show is We’re A Couple of Swells, which, if you can believe it, is just as gorgeous as if it were Garland and Fred Astaire on stage. The success of this number is largely due to the talent and charm of Patrick Dwyer, whose talent and charm I’d missed until only recently, when he visited the Sunshine Coast earlier this year, stepping into the role of Seb in deBase’s touring production of Fly In Fly Out. At the time I wondered where he’d come from…and what he was doing in that show.
It’s great to see and hear a little more from Dwyer in Judy Strikes Back. If he were to jump on the cabaret bandwagon next Dwyer would do all right.
Unfortunately, a drag duet doesn’t work quite as well (somehow it’s the wrong song choice) but Dwyer struts and snarls spectacularly well and we enjoy the snarky duel between the two Judies nevertheless.
Rather than reveal itself as Garland’s “autobiography hot off the heavenly presses”, or a true tribute complete with fangirl scrapbook of stage door selfies and newspaper clippings, the show veers off course and feels less satisfying when Dwyer removes Meenach’s wig and challenges her to sing Over the Rainbow as herself. I know everyone around me is happy with this ending, I can feel it and I overhear it after the show (“Well, it was set up early! The opening number!”), but it didn’t strike the right chord with me. I wanted to leave with Judy Garland indelibly printed in my mind, and not the actor. It’s as if the magician had revealed her secret.
I walked away feeling that the story ended tragically after all because who can ever live up to one’s own expectations???
With the first half of the show stronger than the latter, I came to the decision before its conclusion that this was not the piece I thought it was going to be and tried not to be disappointed because NOOSA LONG WEEKEND FESTIVAL PROGRAMMING POSSIBILITIES.
All the right questions are posed and if you don’t mind the turn it takes, Judy Strikes Back is a deftly directed cabaret (Director Lewis Jones) worthy of a return season. It could enjoy a little more sparkle though, and if the notion is to draw a parallel between artists, it could do so more clearly, in celebration of the talent, the work, without the apologetic end.
Always be a first rate version of yourself instead of a second rate version of someone else.
– Judy Garland