Oct. 10, 2012 - Issue #886: Typhoon Judy
Typhoon Judy: The dreams you dare to dream
Typhoon Judy circles the trauma and the voice of Judy Garland
"All who follow her have to bear that very, very, hard comparison of Judy Garland, anybody who sings, anybody who holds an audience in the palm of their hand with such consummate ease, with such magic, with such sincerity, with love and with such truth. She is, always will be, Miss Show Business." —Richard Attenborough
It's true that the shadow Judy Garland cast over Hollywood was a long one. But it perhaps hung heaviest on Garland herself, an increasingly fragile woman straddled with the burden of being the legendary Judy Garland, whose biggest success came early ("Over the Rainbow") and was never surpassed, who coped with herself on a diet of pills and booze, a string of failed marriages, a rehab stint and eventually several suicide attempts. Her personality and personal failures are remembered as vividly as the string of successes that spanned her career.
Still, some of her performances were legendary for reasons other than skill. To call Judy Garland's 1964 Melbourne concert a disaster might be a gentler way of putting it: she started late; the audience, enraged at the wait and perceiving her drunk, started to heckle; the papers savaged it in the aftermath, giving her the worst reviews of her life. Garland's next concert, in Hong Kong, was cancelled due to a typhoon, putting an end to her hopes of redeeming the performance immediately afterwards.
"We found this quote, this piece of media from after her Melbourne concert," says Darrin Hagen, sitting in the Roxy Theatre's green room, begins before Christopher Peterson, beside him, immediately jumps in: "The disaster Melbourne concert—where one of the journalists asks her, 'So, what did you think of last night's show?' And she says, [in a savagely dry tone]: 'I didn't like it. Did you?'"
"When the concert got cancelled in Hong Kong, Judy did her first serious suicide attempt," Darrin Hagen continues. "Because she was so crushed from Melbourne, and the disaster that happened there, and Hong Kong was her chance to redeem herself and it didn't happen, and she actually took too many pills, and actually, clinically, legally on the operating table died, and went into a coma for a little while. And it was serious enough that the news flashed around the world that Judy Garland had died."
The two, have placed Typhoon Judy in that inbetween: the script picks up with Garland barreling into the rehearsal hall to find the band's taken a raincheck in the face of Typhoon Viola, save one particularly quiet pianist. She begins to rehearse anyways, while regailing the fellow with her life's story, songs and the slow realization she has no idea how she actually got here. And in letting it all unspool in that scenario, Typhoon Judy offers a study in both lasting elements of the Garland legacy: the trauma and the voice.
"Nobody really talks about Hong Kong," Hagen says. "We took a tiny moment in her life and gave it gigantic significance."
"Of all the autobiographies, it's only mentioned in two of them," Peterson notes. "Barely mentioned. Almost a paragraph."
"Melbourne gets press, because it's her first disaster," Hagen continues. "But Hong Kong, because it didn't happen, people just kind of skip over it."
So much of Typhoon is set to rest on Peterson's Garland impersonation. It's one he's known for, and has been touting in short form since 1996 as part of his EYECONS
impersonation show (It played in Edmonton at the 2011 Fringe), where Peterson runs through a spectrum of famous females. Most get a bit of a send up along with his impression. Garland, though, marks that show's closer and gets a different treatment.
"I also do dialogue with her, a little patter, and in particular, older 'Friends of Dorthy'—homosexuals; that's what they were called in the old days—I've had many who had seen her in concert," Peterson explains. "They were old enough to have seen her in concert and say, 'Ohmygod, you're Judy Garland.' So she's one of the few characters I do that has a realism to it. Some of the other characters I spoof. But I'm very reverent with her, instead of irreverent, which most of the show [EYECONS] is."
Peterson's singing range, Hagen notes, is similar to Garland's own. Typhoon—crafted, from Peterson's idea, in a long distance back and forth between Hagen and him ("This is the Skype collaboration," Hagen laughs)—has already gone up in front of an audience once, in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. For this run, opening up Theatre Network's 2012-13 season, Hagen and Peterson have had time to tinker, play around with ideas, find room for a few more good Garland quotes. (There are some unusual rehearsal questions still being sorted out: is she on Ritalin when she barges in? How many of what pills has she already taken?)
The arrangement, courtesty of Jim Rice, puts most of the covered Garland Songbook into rich new instrumentations: "We want to give each song a different colour than the original," Peterson notes.
Hagan and Peterson both seem well aware that their audience will be bringing their own expectations for a Judy Garland and stress that, while this is their particular look at the woman, it's far from a muted portrait of the lady.
"This is A to Z. This isn't a light little cabaret show—"Hi, i'm Judy Garland, let me tell you a story about Toto, now I'm going to sing a happy song.' The second act's really, really heavy."
"You said this the other day," Hagen says, turning to Peterson. "She was the first star that was a victim of her own success. She never did get past that Rainbow in her first big hit movie. That was actually the beginning and the end of everything for her: she could never move past it, she could never leave it behind. She could never get over it, she always had that reputation trailing with her. And the expectations: when we talk about people bringing Judy-expectations to the table, she had to live with that every time she stepped foot on stage."
"And I'll go even farther: a victim of the press too," Peterson adds. "She's the first star that lived her life in the press. She's the first drug addict, alcoholic star that we know of. All the rest followed suit—none of them did it as well, either."
Until Sun, Oct 28 (8 pm)
Created by Darrin Hagen
and Christopher Peterson
Roxy Theatre, $21 –$50
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