Judy! @ Arts Theatre (West End)

Wednesday 18/05/17

Cast Includes Helen Sheals as CBS Judy, Belinda Wollaston as Palace Judy and Lucy Penrose as Young Judy.

Running Time: 2 hours 35 mins inc. interval

 

Judy Garland is an icon – she is one of the most written about and covered artists of Hollywood musical history. Looking at her recording history, it is clear to see why – she had a run of consistently good songs which she delivered in her unique way, but also that she led a unique and frequently documented life, covering the many ups and downs. This is what Ray Rackham’s Judy! (seen last year at Southwark Playhouse under the name Through The Mill) makes its focus.

The approach that Rackham takes is not to cast one actress as Judy Garland but three, each covering a defining era of her life – Young Judy (Penrose), Palace Judy (Wollaston) and CBS Judy (Sheals). This artistic decision is highly effective – it means that parts of her life can be used to highlight and comment on the other, such as the relationships she has with men, her drug addiction, etc. It is also clear that Rackham has clear affinity with the subject, with so much detail crammed into the show that could be glossed over in an inferior production.

It goes without saying that the music is of five star quality – it takes all of the best songs that you associate with Garland and weaves them at timely intervals in her life (especially good is the use of The Trolley Song during the young Garland’s interstate tour, even if it is vastly before she records it in her lifetime).

The strength of this production is the three actresses playing Judy, and it is on this that the show succeeds spectacularly. The cast boasts three actresses who each take on the title character and each highlights a slightly different side of the legend – Young Judy, her innocence; Palace Judy, her need for men and desire to be wanted; CBS Judy, her stubbornness to succeed.

It is impossible to not compare this version to the one that was shown last year at Southwark Playhouse – it is fairly similar other than the name change (possibly to make it more obvious to the subject matter). The main thing that has changed is the altered use of staging – it is in proscenium staging at the Arts, rather than the thrust it debuted in, which has also allowed the use of more lighting in several of the numbers. This is particularly effective in the Palace Medley, which is when Wollaston is given her own her chance to shine – it gives the number more space and more richness.

Summary: A deserved West-End transfer for this shining Judy Garland biopic, with fantastic actresses in the title role. ****

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