AND NOW LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, JUDY GARLAND: Kathy St. George has mastered the signature gestures, tics, and stances.
No man is an island — not even in solo performance. The solo shows based on actual lives succeed best when both actor and subject prove worthy of the stage: Truman Capote makes a better bet than, say, General Douglas MacArthur (whom I once saw stiffly played by Carl Betz of The Donna Reed Show — a double negative). Certainly Judy Garland, however battered by a thousand drag shows, qualifies for re-enactment, and in And Now Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Judy Garland (at the Lyric Stage, indefinitely), Kathy St. George accords her idol superbly sincere flattery. Less sonorous if no less passionate was baby-brother attorney general and martyred presidential aspirant Robert F. Kennedy, of whom writer/actor Jack Holmes paints a fiery academic sketch in RFK: A Portrait of Robert F. Kennedy (at the Stuart Street Playhouse, indefinitely). For sheer degree of difficulty, though, the prize goes to Lynn Redgrave. In Nightingale (at Hartford Stage through July 1), the Oscar-nominated actress holds the stage for 85 minutes as a stiff-upper-lipped Edwardian cipher based on the “chilly ghost of a granny” she barely knew but whom she set out to immortalize for both their sakes.
Judy is dead; long live Judy. Of course, Kathy St. George is not Judy Garland, who died of barbiturate poisoning in 1969, at the age of 47. The iconic star of The Wizard of Oz is not duplicable, but she has proved imitable, and the diminutive St. George, sporting a couple of well-shellacked wigs, has mastered the signature gestures, tics, and stances, not to mention a vibrato that could rock a washing machine. When she stands legs apart, knees locked, bodice shimmering, and head thrown back for what Bill Clinton would deem is not sexual relations with her microphone, you could squint and think you were watching Garland. All that’s missing are the stick pinions and the booze belly.
But that’s not all And Now Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Judy Garland, the love child of St. George and adapter/director Tony McLean, is about. The new theater piece begins with a forlorn, satin-pajama-clad Garland alone in a London hotel suite attempting to overcome mechanical difficulties as she speaks into an old reel tape recorder some of the 1964 ramblings that were intended for a debt-relieving autobiography but instead became the bootleg tapes Judy Speaks. By following these lonely, slurred reminiscences — which are peppered with defiant denunciations of the handlers who done her wrong and encomiums to her distant kids — with an ebullient mini-concert, the 90-minute show makes its point that the love of Garland’s life was her audience. And as is implied by a final, poignant delivery of “Over the Rainbow” by St. George in a tramp costume she donned for “A Couple of Swells,” the affair, though lifelong, was not enough.