Theatre Review: Judy - The Songbook of Judy Garland - Edinburgh Playhouse ✭✭✭

Review by Anne Mackie

Let me set the record straight... ‘Judy’ is a show for fans of MGM cinema, musical theatre, and of course, Judy Garland herself.  It is not for the non-theatrical faint hearted.

More a song cycle revue than a large scale production, the show takes a look back at Judy Garland’s legacy and pays credit to the music that made her a star. Fronting the production is Garland’s daughter, Lorna Luft who expertly embraces the stage, the music and the audience, proving a true talent in her own right. However it is supporting vocalist, Louise Dearman that truly steals the show. Her rendition of ‘The Trolley Song’, ‘Stormy Weather’ and the incomparable‘Get Happy/Happy Days/Hooray for Love Medley’ duet with Luft being among the show’s highlights.

Other principal players included Georgina Hagen, Rachel Stanley, Darren Bennett and X-Factor star Ray QuinnA strong vocal line-up, all of whom performed their triple-threated hearts out alongside dance troupe, The Boyfriends.The performers were supported by a small onstage band featuring percussion, keys and a cello. A nice touch for the more intimate ballads, however when it came to the larger scale, big band numbers, an pre-recorded orchestral track was played. A disappointment in many respects, particularly as up-tempo numbers such as Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart’, ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ and ‘Putting on the Ritz’were crying out for a large scale live band to pack a musical punch. This leads us to consider whether the Playhouse was in fact too large a venue for a production of this calibre? Unfortunately, this may have been the case.

Directed by Christopher Manoe alongside Creative Director Arlene Philipsthe production was well structured and included an excellent array of well thought out musical numbers. There was no distinct narrative, but numbers flowed smoothly thanks to a series of video projections by Colin RozeeIt was both effective and moving to see authentic clips of Garland and of course, hear the voice that made her famous beautifully echoing throughout the auditorium. Colin Wood’s emotive lighting design ably supported the limited set, allowing for an intimate yet reflective feel. Special credit, however, must go to Richard Roe and Douglas Mills for devising such exciting, in-sync choreography. Tap numbers in particular proving a memorable highlight.

Generally, this was a good, reliable albeit occasionally repetitive production, but one that, in the main, delivered a strong evening of musicality and danceThe tour marked its official opening in Edinburgh and as such, experienced some teething problems but this, in many ways, was to be expected.Of course, this did not detract away from the overall production values but instead highlighted just how hard the company were working to do Judy Garland’s legendary legacy the justice it so rightly deserves.

So... If you love old-style Hollywood and classic musical theatre, ‘Judy’ is most definitely worth a visit. Grab your ticket ‘come rain or come shine’, as it kicks off on a short UK tour this month and let this truly talented company take you ‘ somewhere over the rainbow’... (puns very much intended!)