Review: Judy! – Arts Theatre until June 17th
★★★★★ “Simply a must-see”
Review By Caroline Hanks-Farmer
This could be the briefest review I’ve ever written – Quite simply if you are interested in or a fan of Judy Garland or just want to see a masterclass in performance, you need to get yourself to see Judy! There you go job done as simple as that ……! However I hear you asking for me to elaborate, ok I will.
This play chronicles Judy Garlands life in three stages but all ostensibly from the view of her TV show recordings for CBS. The three Judy’s are Helen Sheals who plays CBS Judy, Belinda Wollaston as Palace Judy and finally young Judy is played by Lucy Penrose. All are the original cast from the earlier runs in 2016, and it is a joy that this show is rightfully making its West End debut.
What’s interesting about this piece is the amount of understanding of how this icon not only came to be but also of her immense insecurities. She endured manipulation from an early age by a controlling, overpowering, fame seeking mother and then in her career by the industry. Gaining a reputation for being difficult to work with and unreliable. I have to say I think people misread her completely, all she ever wanted is to be loved, a part of her never actually grew up and so she had a childlike quality which people mistook. We have to remember that she was performing all her life, she starred in her first motion picture at the tender age of seven and it was just ten years later that she was cast as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. One of the lines uttered by Palace Judy (Belinda Wollaston) to Sid Luft (Harry Anton) is “I’m a has been at 29”. Of course she wasn’t but for me the fact she even considered this, was heartbreaking.
I have watched many documentaries before, however nothing has brought her story more to life for me than this musical play and it’s extraordinarily talented cast. Each time either Sheals, Wollaston or Penrose performed, I thought that one has nailed Garland to perfection and I could not distinguish between any of them, all equally incredible in their portrayal. All I can say is that months of research must have taken place by all three of them, right down to their mannerisms, sound and overall perception was spot on and utterly superb.
Other notable performances came from Carmella Brown as dresser Judith Cramer, Sid Luft played by Harry Anton and Mother Ethel Gumm Amanda Bailey. All supporting characters were important for the piece and none more so than these three who gave excellent performances.
This play written and directed by Ray Rackham has the ability to make you laugh and cry but most importantly celebrate the icon that was Judy Garland. It has to be said that Rackham has written something outstanding in Judy. Not only a celebratory insightful delve into Judy’s life but a devotion to her very being. With versions of songs such as Life is a Bowl of Cherries, You Made Me Love You, Get Happy, The Trolley Song and Over The Rainbow, it really is a feast for the ears. All were exquisitely and powerfully delivered by this shows incredible leading ladies
I’m thrilled this show has transferred. Personally I loved the intimacy of its previous performance spaces. But mostly that’s just selfishness on my part because this show with its dazzling performances utterly deserves its place in the heart of the West End. Returning to my first paragraph this is simply a must see show. Click your ruby slippers or rather this link to book now!