Judy Strikes Back
Written by Bernadette Meenach
Presented by Judith Wright Centre
Judith Wright Centre of Performing Arts
Season until till August 15. Bookings: www.judithwrightcentre.com
Since her death in 1969, Judy Garland has been heralded as a tragic figure who succumbed to a drug addiction in a devastating way. But is this really all there was to this celebrated figure?
In Judy Strikes Back, Bernadette Meenach looks to overthrow the shadow cast on the life of Garland and really getting to the core of her life as a mother, entertainer, and little girl lost.
Judy Strikes Back is a very interesting project. As was noted in the program it is part of a research project into the biographical theatre genre. As one who has not experienced this type of theatre before, or indeed know much about Judy Garland, I was intrigued to see what sort of performance this was going to turn out to be. I was not disappointed.
Written and performed by Meenach, and directed by Lewis Jones, “Judy” follows the life of Frances Ethel Gumm, who was set to grow up to be one of the most iconic screen figures of all time.
Moving through the ages from when the little Gumm sisters became the Garlands to when Judy was let go by MGM to reminiscence about past performances, a much different picture was created about the life of this would-be Ophelia.
Demonstrating this life through song and dance and interspersed with anecdotes, Meenach provided a powerful performance with stunning vocals and a laughing demeanour, even when she seemed to make a few mistakes.
In addition to Meenach’s performance there was Musical director and accompanist, Morgan Chalmers and Patrick Dwyer who acted as a sort of side-kick to Meenach’s superhero. His performance as Judy was also quite hilarious.
The scene was set as the audience filed into the Judith Wright. Comfortable chairs and tables were set out, with charming little candles on them. This provided a cosy and intimate ambiance, coupled by the pleasant Golden Oldies music pervading the room.
The lights and sound systems were simple, yet used effectively. I was especially pleased with the blending of sound levels – the vocals matched the piano and meshed very well when the performance began and the singing started. The lights, whilst simple were used creatively and afforded that special cabaret mood that added to the whole intimacy of the piece.
There were lots of things I liked about this production. It moved at a snappy pace that often had the audience in stiches and the energy was high, which is not small feat, especially for a lone performer on the stage.
As I mentioned earlier, Meenach’s vocals positively sizzled. Her voice captivated me and as each song ended, I wanted to hear more. If the entire show had just been her singing I would have been content. Chalmers at the piano was very graceful and skilled – his quiet interjections were also quite amusing. And who could forget Dwyer with his accompanying pieces? His version of Judy Garland was excellent.
Thus, to sum up; Judy Strikes Back was a highly entertaining piece about the life of Judy Garland. It purported to look at a more real view of the actress’ life.
Meenach, Dwyer and Chalmers all put in an extraordinary amount of life and love into their performances that made them believable and fresh. For someone like me, who didn’t know much about Garland save for the Wizard of Oz, I found it to be most informative and have no doubt that true fans of hers would also enjoy the show. Just to make a short note, the running time was actually 90 minutes in lieu of 120, as it stipulates on the website.