BWW Reviews: NY Pops' The Great Judy Garland Concert
"And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true..." The artists participating in the New York Pops' "The Great Judy Garland" concert last Friday at Carnegie Hall didn't cite the actual lyrics of Judy Garland's most famous song—except when Ashley Brown sang it late in the program—but they certainly invoked its message repeatedly as they took the stage.
Pops conductor Steven Reineke said it was "a dream come true" to honor Garland on the 50th anniversary of her legendary Carnegie Hall concert. Ashley Brown told the audience, "I am livin' my dreams up here." Karen Olivo followed with "Girls dream about this kind of thing...thank you for being part of my dream tonight."
Brown, Olivo and Heather Headley were the Pops' guest artists in the concert, which presented the same songs Garland performed at Carnegie Hall on April 23, 1961, in the same order, with the same arrangements. Garland's daughter Lorna Luft was the special guest star. Luft, who was 8 years old at her mother's concert, told the audience that whenever she's asked about it, she says, "I can promise you I had never, ever seen grown-ups act like that in my life."
Now, there is one problem with re-creating a Judy Garland performance: Nobody can replicate her connection with the audience and uniquely heart-wrenching delivery—the very qualities that made her, in Reineke's words, "one of the greatest entertainers of all time" and "incomparable"—so something will always seem lacking. Brown, Olivo and Headley are all award-winning performers, and they looked and sounded lovely—just not like Judy Garland, and it's hard to hear her songs without her interpretations coming to mind. The closest anyone came to a Garland-esque performance was Luft in her third and final number, "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby (With a Dixie Melody)." Through the power of either mimickry or genetics, Luft (wearing a black pantsuit like her mother used to) performed the song with moves—walking up and down the edge of the stage—and crescendoing emotion that recalled her mother. It was the concert's highlight and, essentially, its 11 o'clock number.
Brown and Headley did convey certain aspects of Garland. Brown's sweet wholesomeness is not unlike Garland's circa her MGM heyday (and other musical ingenues of that era), and she charmed in two medleys of songs from that period: "You Made Me Love You"/"For Me and My Gal"/"The Trolley Song" and "Almost Like Being in Love"/"This Can't Be Love." Headley's resemblance to Garland, meanwhile, is in the dramatics of her singing. Her "Stormy Weather" in particular was memorable, an excellent match of performer and song on a program where pre-selected songs had to be divvied up. Headley's numbers also included "Just You, Just Me" and "After You've Gone."
Olivo, best known mostly for contemporary musicals, was a little more outside her comfort zone on this evening of standards. She shone brightest on the uptempo numbers "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart" and "Puttin' on the Ritz." The evening's energy unfortunately sagged a bit during the "intimate portion of the program," as Olivo called it, when she, Headley and Brown took turns standing by the pianist for a torchy song—"You're Nearer," "A Foggy Day" and "If Love Were All," respectively. It served better as a showcase for piano man Lee Musiker.
While the other singers stayed on stage for the entire concert, Luft came out just for her songs. She appeared toward the end of the first half to sing "The Man That Got Away" and then shortly after intermission for "Come Rain or Come Shine." The latter was another faithful and impassioned interpretation; the former, she also sang well and sounded like she was crying during its final stanzas (the song, Luft had reminded the audience, comes from the only film her parents made together).
Click here for BWW's photo coverage of the concert.
Photo by Monica Simoes.