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JUDY: THE SONGBOOK OF JUDY GARLAND – New Wimbledon Theatre, London

Louise-Dearman-and-Lorna-Luft-credit-David-King-700x455Judy: The Songbook of Judy Garland is a musical revue of all the classic songs you would recognise Garland for, and then some. With highlights such as ‘The Trolley Song’ and lesser known tracks like ‘A Couple of Swells’, this is two hours of pure indulgence if you are a Garland fanatic. For anyone else, however, the production falls short.

The biggest revelation of the night comes in the form of Ray Quinn’s accomplished and impressive execution of the choreography – who knew the man had such smooth moves? Given his success on Dancing on Ice, this may not come as a shock to many, but he looks like he was born to do it. Louise Dearman, somewhat predictably, carries the show vocally with some very strong backup in the form of Rachel Stanley and Georgina Hagen.

Unfortunately, it is when Lorna Luft herself remains on stage for more than ten minutes that the show takes a nosedive into cringe city. Luft is able to croon out the first few of Garlands classics well, and no-one could accuse her of not giving it absolutely everything she has got. But for the most part, that just isn’t enough to counteract the rather kitsch and old-fashioned style which, despite being a nice nod to the Garland era, is too much. However, if you have a penchant for faux-impromptu-yet-clearly-over-rehearsed fourth wall interactions, or are simply a huge Garland fan, then this won’t bother you and you’ll find it charming.

Relaying old footage of Garland singing on stage during costume change transitions works well to entertain the audience and gives us a nice reminder of the woman we are all there to celebrate. There’s a particularly touching piece of footage featuring a young Lorna with Garland, and I think this musical revue would benefit from more authentic elements like that. Garland led an unusual, thrilling, tragic life, and so perhaps a partially staged concert would work better than a ‘songbook’, to inject some life and authenticity into it. Through this footage, non-aficionados of Garland are given an insight into her cheeky personality, her dry wit, and you do get a real sense of the woman she was and why audiences adored her so much, and still do.

The final number that we are all waiting for falls flat. Instead of being treated to a live rendition of ‘Over the Rainbow’ (perhaps by Dearman, as was my incorrect prediction), the cast turn their backs to the audience and we all watch yet more footage of Garland singing said track. As tributes go, it was all very lovely and fuzzy, but not particularly thrilling. No-one could rival Garland or attempt to imitate her stunning vocals, but a rousing ending would have gone some way to counteract the shortfalls elsewhere.

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Reviewed 16/6/15

By Caroline Cronin

16th June – 20th June 2015
New Wimbledon Theatre, London, SW19 1QG.

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