Oct. 17, 2012 - Issue #887: Dedfest
Created by Darrin Hagen and
Roxy Theatre, $21 –$50
Judy Garland blows into the theatre against the whip of an angry weather system, wind and mist swirling all around her fur-and-sunglasses-clad frame. She's storming into Hong Kong to rehearse a show that, on historical record, will never actually happen due to battering winds of Typhoon Viola. We've also just been told via radio that Garland's been hospitalized, meaning that maybe this is all happening in some sort of spiritual limbo; regardless, she finds the room almost empty, her orchestra kept away by the storm save one silent piano boy (Nicholas Samoil) clad all in white. The show must go on, though, and he plays while she recounts her life, eventually drifting into her deeper, darker thoughts, her damaged personal life and the greater fractures her time as a starlet has inflicted upon her. And she sings. Does she ever.
Typhoon Judy, the Theatre Network's season opener co-created by Christopher Peterson and Darrin Hagen, seems to be an attempt to inject the cabaret form with some dramatic heft, adding in a fourth wall and filling it in with as much background script as songbook lift. It's a worthwhile premise, one delivered with ample skill here, but one that also has a tendency to drag in its quieter moments, feeling drawn out as a two-hour show.
That isn't to say it's a wash: Peterson's Garland is a compelling mix of self-aggrandizement and an increasingly revealed sort of damaged vulnerability. His Garland is a reverent performance, certainly, but not cheaply so. And when Peterson's singing—his range is similar to Garland's actual one—it's almost always a show peak.
It's what comes between songs, however—the presentation of Garland's personal history—that gets less compelling as it goes along. The script takes its time sifting through so much personal history, and especially when only one of the two characters onstage is ever talking, that you start to feel the energy drop as it goes on. Garland's got a massive, damaged personal history—overworked from childhood on, forever trapped by the shadows of her early successes, then thrown away by the studio after the strain began to overtake her ability, unable to find lasting stability in any of her marriages—but the longer it goes, the more it just feels like exposition, particularly in the first act. The energy Peterson channels into his Garland dissipates during the longer between-song stretches. And yes, that sense of vulnerability, the person behind the songs, burdened with the strains of living up to the Garland name, is vital context for her show-stopper abilities. But here, the script often feels like it's simply telling that context more so than allowing the emotions and the heart to resonate and reveal themselves.
So Typhoon's at its best when Peterson and Hagen let their Garland sing, showing us why she was the original Hollywood starlet that conjured up all the fame and world-wide attention. There's a show-closing concert for us; the fourth wall drops, Garland gets chatty, and the energy in the room rides a cyclone of an updraft to send us into the night on a high. There, and throughout, whenever Peterson's pipes open up, we're delivered a Garland who lives up to her own legend. When she's simply up there explaining her troubles away, it doesn't quite carry its share of the impact. vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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