Following a critically acclaimed run at both the London Theatre Workshop and then Southwark Playhouse, Ray Rackham’s musical play, which charts the life and career of Hollywood icon Judy Garland, will receive its West End premiere next month, writes Nicky Sweetland.
The show now entitled simply Judy! having previously been known as Through the Mill was awarded a five star review by the London Weekly News last summer and is now transferring with the same cast of actor musicians including not one, not two, but three Judys. The intricate non-linear story cleverly entwines three distinct eras of Judy Garland’s life, played by three different actresses, who all in their own way, are uncannily reminiscent of the MGM mega star.
Helen Sheals (Last Tango In Halifax, Downton Abbey) plays CBS Judy, Belinda Wollaston (Mamma Mia, Titanic) depicts Palace Judy and newcomer Lucy Penrose takes on the task of portraying Young Judy. Lucy took some time off from rehearsals to tell us about the show, which marks her West End debut.
The young actress, who got the job in Judy! fresh from graduating from drama school explained the intricate structure of the piece and said, “We interlink and over lap and take over from each other. We have our independent story lines, so it’s not linear, but the stories jell together and add a different level, which makes for a new dynamic type of story telling.”
Judy Garland’s career spanned over 40 years and saw the actress rise to international stardom. Many will remember the pig tailed young farm girl, Dorothy from the classic musical film The Wizard of Oz and it’s the young Judy, which Lucy has had to get to grips with.
“Judy herself went through so many transformations and we watched her grow up on screen. Her troubles were always in the media and her highs and lows were always documented. We saw this woman grow up from being a childhood movie star, who created one of the most iconic film roles in history when she played Dorothy. My era is very much the Dorothy era and shows all of the naivety that Judy had when she was younger. She just had this open young innocent soul and I think that’s why people gravitated towards her.”
Judy Garland’s tumultuous personal life and struggle with substance abuse has been well documented and this is also sensitively touched upon in the play and Lucy explained, “I think Belinda [Wollaston] is like the phoenix Judy, as she’s had a chance to reinvent herself to perform at the Palace. Helen [Sheals] has the weight of the world on her shoulders. She’s been through pain but she’s realised that laughter, being funny and making fun of yourself are what makes happiness.”
Writer Ray Rackham is a big Judy Garland admirer and has ensured not only that her story is told with grace, but also that there are some real gems for fans to get their teeth into, hidden within the show.
Lucy said, “We’ve put in lots of little trinkets and things that if they keep their wits about them, they can spot on the set.”
The play features 12 of Garland’s best-loved songs including ‘The Trolley Song’, ‘The Man That Got Away’ and, of course, ‘Over The Rainbow’ played by a big band to give it that famous Judy Garland sound.
Lucy said, “My favourite song that I sing in the show has got to be ‘Over the Rainbow’. It’s my lucky song and it was my grandma’s lucky song as well. It was the first song I ever sang in public as a five year old. I sang it for the audition for this and I’ve sung it for loads of other auditions. My favourite Judy song that’s not in the show is ‘Everybody Sing’ from Broadway Melody of 1938. It was one of her first ever films and it’s the first ever role that she said – apart from the first line – she really liked herself in. She sings this great song and she’s 13 years old just belting out a jazz standard, which is incredible. If I could convince Ray to put any song in the show it would be ‘Everybody Sing’”
Judy! promises to be a real treat for fans of the icon, but also provides an uplifting theatrical event that will put a smile on the face of even the most hard hearted theatre goer and Lucy said, “Right now, in the current state that the world is in, we need to see an icon stand up against a tornado with a smile on her face and I think that’s a really empowering message at the moment.”