BWW #TBT CD Reviews: Judy Garland's JUDY AT CARNEGIE HALL is Truly Epic
June is just around the corner. In New York, this means that spring is melting into summer and that New York City's annual celebration and remembrance of the original Stonewall riots is here. While the official NYC Pride website only lists a week's worth of activities late in June, denizens of the city are aware of festivities spanning the whole month. One of the most popular is the annual, star-studded NIGHT OF A THOUSAND JUDYS fundraising concert.
"Just like Judy we always come back," says Justin Sayre of his annual event's upcoming fifth anniversary. "Every year, the love we have for this show and the tremendous work of The Ali Forney Center (AFC) only gets deeper and deeper. It's the privilege of my whole year to work with our Judy's Family which every year gets bigger and bigger." But, for me, I only knew Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale in the MGM film The Wizard of Oz. Knowing that Judy Garland is a cultural icon for many and that her legacy extended far beyond my limited scope, this event prompted me to explore her catalogue.
I started with the quintessential Judy Garland album, Capitol's dual record release of JUDY AT CARNEGIE HALL. Recorded live on April 23, 1961 and originally released on July 10, 1961, this special concert is heralded as "the greatest night in show business history." Familiar with the stories of her addictions, I was blown away by her stunning artistry on the album. The concert served as her comeback from illness, and the foresight to preserve it through recording the epic show was legitimate brilliance.
On the album, the band greets Judy Garland with a bombastic overture, and her vocal skills dazzle when she stands behind the microphone. Her powerful belt, her dignified grace on ballads, her exuberant jazz vocals, and her evocative emotionality in the performances make this recording one to cherish. In between songs, her banter illuminates the joy she was feeling and allows listeners to feel akin to the legendary star.
There isn't a bad performance on the stunning album. Even when she complains of having a frog in her throat, kindly asks the audience to pardon her for a brief water break, and cracks a pitch or two while belting with indefatigable charisma, Judy Garland sounds absolutely magnificent. My favorite tracks include her vibrant "When You're Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)" (Mark Fisher, Joe Goodwin, Larry Shay); her effervescent and warm rendition of "Puttin' on the Ritz" (Irving Berlin); her sublimely heartfelt version of "How Long Has This Been Going On?" (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin); her frenetic, authoritative, but tender iteration of "Come Rain or Come Shine" (Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer); and her lushly opulent spin on "Stormy Weather" (Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler).
With JUDY AT CARNEGIE HALL racing through my heart and brain, I understand the excitement for Justin Sayre's NIGHT OF A THOUSAND JUDYS. "For 2015, expect a lot of great music brought to you by some of the most exciting performers in New York and the world, all paying homage to the great lady herself, but also giving their time and talents to the brave young people at AFC," says Justin Sayre. "There's No Place Like Home, and we want that to be true for everyone. We work with the AFC to make that a reality."
NIGHT OF A THOUSAND JUDYS - a special presentation of The Meeting hosted by Justin Sayre - will take place at Merkin Concert Hall at the Kaufman Center, located at 129 West 67th Street, New York, NY 10023, on Monday, June 1. Tickets are $30, $60, $100 and $250. The $100 seats include a VIP pre-show reception at 6:30 PM, a deluxe gift bag and preferred seating. The $250 seats include these features in addition to premium seating and an exclusive poster signed by the cast. Tickets are on sale now here.