Kathy St. George channels Judy Garland
Kathy St. George bends close to the piano, as if hoping to absorb the rhythms into her body while she concentrates on perfecting the song. As she uncoils to belt out the lyrics, her hands open like unfolding flowers, reaching up to frame her face. And when she gets the emotionally charged ending right — the tears nearly spilling from her eyes, the famous vibrato in her voice — she throws her head back in triumph, or in ecstasy.
It’s a rainy day in late May, and St. George is preparing for the title role in And Now Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Judy Garland, which will have its world premiere next Friday at the Lyric Stage Company’s theater. And there’s at least one thing the two women have in common, as St. George points out: “Judy Garland was 4’11”; I’m 4’11”.
Garland died in 1969, at age 47, after a 45-year career: vaudeville, radio, film (The Wizard of Oz and all those memorable MGM musicals), recordings, her legendary sold-out concert appearances, and her own TV series. Along the way, the travails of her private life helped build an adoring fan base that today seems undiminished. St. George, a former second-grade teacher in Stoneham, is one of the Boston theater/cabaret scene’s most popular stars; her triumphs include Johnny Guitar (in which she channeled Joan Crawford), Menopause the Musical, and I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. She says she’s been doing “bits of Judy” for years. She even created a 10-minute version of The Wizard of Oz for a cabaret act before undertaking this project.
Producer/director Tony McLean put together the script, which includes transcriptions from the famed 1964 Judy Speaks tapes that Garland recorded as a basis for an autobiography she hoped would alleviate her debts. (It never materialized.) A former vice-president of Disney Theatrical Productions and the director of the Elliot Norton Award–winning On the Twentieth Century, McLean has constructed this show in two parts, with Garland speaking in the first act and giving a concert performance of her signature hits in the second.
“We get to know the private Judy,” St. George explains. “She’s very funny and very angry. On the tapes she does run the gamut of emotions.” And St. George’s singing style has evolved from her study of Garland’s films and TV shows. “Every night when I come home from rehearsal, I watch another DVD, over and over again. The songs in the show are my list of favorites. We had to stop at one point. I’d like to sing them all.”
McLean adds, “When this show is over, everyone in Boston will have a deeper appreciation of Judy Garland and a deeper appreciation of Kathy St. George. It’s Kathy’s annuity.”
And Now Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Judy Garland | Backyard Productions at Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon St, Boston | Opens June 8 | $45-$50 | 617.585.5678
On the Web
And Now Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Judy Garland: www.andnowjudygarland.com