It takes a lot of guts to get up on stage and perform as a Legend-with-a-capital-L; fortunately, local singer Kelly Caufield has that in spades. That and talent, the kind of pipes you hear only once in a very long while, and typically only on a Broadway stage. Which is why Maine audiences are fortunate to have this charismatic songstress tackling the work of a woman Fred Astaire once called “the greatest entertainer who ever lived,” in Legends: The Music of Judy Garland.
The original show, a cross between a concert and cabaret, is a collaboration between Caufield, who is director of vocal studies at Hebron Academy; Good Theater co-founder and artistic director Brian P. Allen; and musical director Victoria Stubbs; it has already enjoyed successful runs at Biddeford City Theater and the Player’s Ring in Portsmouth. Several performances around Maine are scheduled for this spring (see below).
“I’m excited to create opportunities for artists that I love,” Allen says, and Caufield certainly fits that bill. Allen recalls first hearing her sing, at an audition for Side Show at Portland Players more than a decade ago. Since then the pair has worked together on more than a dozen productions at Good Theater, including Ruthless! The Musical in 2007, The Spitfire Grill in 2010, and Striking 12 in 2012. Caufield has also performed with the Portland Symphony Orchestra and Bangor Symphony.
“I’ve loved this girl since she walked into an audition for me 15 years ago,” Allen says. “I can so clearly see her standing on the stage singing to me...she just blew me away and continues to do so now. Kelly is one of the truly great voices that I have ever had the pleasure to hear or work with.”
In particular, Caufield’s powerful, controlled, and velvety warm voice is well suited to Garland’s catalogue. Allen mentions the chestnut “Johnny One Note,” a Rogers and Hart show tune that Garland sang for the biopic Words and Music and that Caufield performs in Legends.
“Nobody sings that song like Kelly,” Allen says. “People work to sing that song, but with Kelly it’s just so effortless.”
Of course, building an original show from nothing — especially one that pays homage to one of America’s favorite performers — is hard work in itself. The process evolved over several years, with co-writers Caufield and Allen devouring the Great American Songbook, watching old Judy Garland television specials, and finally coming to focus on the composers with whom Garland had a significant relationship, such as the Gershwin brothers, Harold Arlen, and the songwriting team of Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart.
“When Brian and I first decided to develop this show, we knew that it would be an arduous process,” Caufield says. “Writing a show from scratch takes a lot of patience, willingness to collaborate and a creativity that doesn’t always flow naturally. Without Brian and Vicky [Stubbs]’s help this show would never have gotten off the ground.”
But there were moments of clarity, and those she still remembers. “The most exciting moments were during a long writing or arranging session when we would get something right and look at each other as if to say, ‘That’s it!’”