This play with music based on the declining last days of Judy Garland’s career must have crossed the Atlantic purely on the appeal of its subject matter, because it doesn’t have much else to recommend it. The writing is strident, humorless and utterly devoid of nuance, and just rehashes the same biographical clichés that were already twice-told when Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows used them ten years earlier…and at least there, they were colorfully acted out rather than delivered as unfunny narrative monologues.
Mickey Deans, Garland’s final husband, is portrayed as a brutally unsympathetic opportunist here, which seems not only a little harsh, but a bit confusing, since it’s hard to imagine what made the characters portrayed here marry each other in the first place. Her pianist Anthony is a heavy-handed symbol meant to represent all of Garland’s much-built-up adoring gay fanbase, and is portrayed as such a one-dimensional cliché it’s almost offensive. As for Judy herself, she’s essentially portrayed as a caricature of her reported private persona, speaking almost entirely in either self-pitying clichés (“I am all sung out”) or unfunny crude one-liners completely devoid of the real woman’s famous wit.
What all the critics loved about the show is star Tracie Bennett, and indeed her acting of the part is beyond reproach. She really does capture the true persona of Judy Garland in the way that the play itself fails to, perfectly summing up her paradoxes (fragile yet dynamic, powerfully sexual yet oddly childlike) and somehow managing to make the foul-mouthed quips she’s given here funny.
That said, she’s much less successful at delivering the Garland classics that make up the score. Oh, she interprets them impressively from an acting perspective, especially a heartbreakingly deep and complex “The Man That Got Away” and a wild nervous-breakdown version of “Come Rain or Come Shine”. But the basic fact is that Tracie Bennett can just barely sing, and her attempt at a vocal impression of Garland is pretty hard to listen to in spite of all her acting prowess.
So basically, the only good thing about this show was Tracie Bennett, and even she was a decidedly mixed blessing. If you really want to see a Judy Garland musical biography, stick with Me and My Shadows, which makes far more entertaining use of Garland’s overexposed biographical anecdotes and features Garland’s own singing voice on the musical numbers.