Director’s Note: Typhoon Judy

Oct 11, 2012

After the Key West production of BitchSlap!, where Christopher played Bette Davis, I asked him if there were any other Ladies in his repertoire of diva impersonations that he would love to explore in a longer form – over the course of a full-length play.
Without hesitation, he said “Judy.”
“Then maybe we should think about creating a Judy Garland showcase of some kind for you”, I said.
“Well, now that you mention it… I have had an idea for a while now that I have always dreamed of doing…” And over the next half hour he laid out the story of Judy’s failed Australia / Hong Kong tour. I had never heard that particular slice of Judy’s history before; and he had obviously thought this idea through in loving detail over the last decade or more.
And the more we researched, the more the pieces fell into place. Being a Friend of Dorothy, I had a passing familiarity with Judy Garland, but had never been the dedicated fan that some of my Queenly friends were. But that changed as I immersed myself in her music, and absorbed her stories, and watched film after film.
We wanted to find music from Judy’s songbook that would catch people by surprise, or to present classic material in a brand-new light. I am proud to say that I even managed to find an obscure Judy song that Christopher had never heard before. “I love it!” he said. “Put it in the show!”
Christopher commissioned renowned arranger Jim Rice to dive into the Garland repertoire to create brand-new piano arrangements for these classic melodies, and then worked with Key West musician Bobby Nesbit to tailor the music to his voice and to the needs of the scenes.
When I arrived in Key West, I watched Christopher do a rehearsal run in his kitchen, with the family dog Benjamin looking on. Then a dress rehearsal on the teeny-tiny stage at the La Te Da Cabaret. Then we drove all the way to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for a one-night-only / preview / world premiere/ closing night – a fundraiser for Camp Rehoboth, the local GLBTQ community center. 800 people packed the Convention Center to see the closest thing to a Judy Garland concert that one can see in this day and age.
In Judy’s story, there are dizzying highs, and heartbreaking lows, and her life and career swung wildly from one to the other.  She could step from a sold-out standing-room-only triumph onstage, to sneaking out of her hotel in shame without paying the bill, confused children in tow. Denied the financial rewards of her talents, she often had to settle for applause as being payment enough. But through it all, from the bad marriages and the failed movies, to the stunning concerts and cheering mobs, Judy was a star, and she remained one her entire life – even when her career was at its lowest points.
And when she opened her mouth to sing, time stood still.
– Darrin Hagen