Exclusive: Michael Feinstein on Bringing RAINBOW: THE NEW JUDY GARLAND MUSICAL to the Mark Taper Forum

The show is executive produced by Michael Feinstein and Liza Minnelli.

By: Apr. 10, 2024
Exclusive: Michael Feinstein on Bringing RAINBOW: THE NEW JUDY GARLAND MUSICAL to the Mark Taper Forum
Enter Your Email to Unlock This Article

Plus, get the best of BroadwayWorld delivered to your inbox, and unlimited access to our editorial content across the globe.

Existing user? Just click login.

Ahead of his third appearance at the Mark Taper Forum under the banner Feinstein's at the Taper, BroadwayWorld sat down to chat with Michael Feinstein about the upcoming performance of RAINBOW: The New Judy Garland Musical on Saturday, April 13 at 8PM.

RAINBOW: The New Judy Garland Musical is the breathtaking culmination of over three decades of research, performance, and a lifetime love for one of the world's most iconic performers, Judy Garland. Making its West Coast premiere, the show, which was originally performed at Feinstein's club in New York during the Garland Centennial in December 2021, stars Feinstein as he travels through the life and songs of Judy Garland.

This multimedia live show features big screen film clips, rarely heard and seen audio recordings and photos, good humor, and great music. Executive produced by Ms. Garland's daughter, Liza Minnelli, and her closest friend and collaborator, multi-platinum-selling, two-time Emmy and five-time Grammy Award nominee, Michael Feinstein, this event at the Mark Taper Forum is different. It is an unabashed musical biography that celebrates Judy, sharing insights from the music we all adore and the life known only by the endless, shining, forever love shared with her children, Liza, Lorna and Joey Luft

Tickets are available through CenterTheatreGroup.org, Audience Services at (213) 972- 4400, or in person at the Center Theatre Group Box Offices (at the Ahmanson Theatre) at The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012.  

What initially inspired you to create RAINBOW: The New Judy Garland Musical, and how did the idea come to you?
The genius of Judy Garland is a lifelong inspiration for countless artists and audiences everywhere… the Garland legacy and iconic influence is something I call the “Rainbow Effect”. 

It’s not possible to present music from The Great American Songbook without honoring Judy Garland… So from the beginning, the music, the recordings, the films made very important contributions to my own performances. It isn't always easy, because Judy's performances of most music becomes definitive. I believe being a man is especially helpful in this presentation because the approach is much more of an homage and less likely to invite comparisons. For many years my beloved Liza resisted singing music her mother made famous, by saying, “It's already been done! And in the most wonderful way.”

And for Judy’s centennial I performed a musical tribute to her… Liza was so generous and loving. She opened her family archives with musical arrangements, photographs, unseen home movies, of course special stories and suggested we collaborate on what has become RAINBOW. 

Sadly too many people have become invested in the myth of tragedy that surrounds Judy Garland. People who know very little about her will say silly, unkind things: “Oh, she was such a mess.” A lot of people who know the name don't necessarily know nearly enough about her dazzling artistry. It bothers Liza, her siblings and me to see her legend continue to be sensationalized. It is my wish that RAINBOW will illuminate the miracle of  Judy’s art and transcend the faux narrative many people have ascribed to her. Her art is what matters, after all and candidly according to Liza and her family, she was as astonishing off stage as on. Not tragic. Brilliant. Warm. Funny and filled with wit and charm. Everything I’ve learned about Judy Garland creates a special sense of awe and gratitude… My prayer is to share that with the audience through the music and creative elements which haven’t been seen… until now. 

Can you share a bit about your research process over the three decades leading up to this show? What were some of the most surprising discoveries you made about Judy Garland during this time?

Liza and I have been close for so many years… she said from day one: ‘Honey, we’re joined at the hip and we have been ever since.’ We met at the home of her legendary father, film director Vincente Minnelli. I was playing the piano and Liza just sat down beside me, and together we started singing. Liza took me under her wing and introduced me to so many people and opportunities which truly have a major impact on my life and my music. There’s more love and gratitude than I can put into words. So, Liza was the person who suggested that I put together the initial concert with the vision that we would continue to refine and see it emerge as a theatrical event with multi-media. I didn’t feel I had the gravitas to properly pay tribute to Judy Garland. But, Liza is tenacious and encouraging. 

The first program which Liza and I developed together was a concert tribute to Judy and then an evening focused on Vincente and Liza contributions to film and theatre. RAINBOW reflects something from each of those journeys. 

At the Great American Songbook Archives, we were privileged to induct Judy Garland into our Hall of Fame. Judy's contributions stand out as both exceptional and critical. Recognizing her singular influence on the musical world is essential; her unique ability to bring songs to life - many written specially for her - lifted several pieces to the esteemed status of Standards. “Over the Rainbow” is a quintessential example of this. Our collection features extraordinary photographs from her MGM tenure, including those images which were curated and provided to cinemas to promote the films. So much of that history would be lost without Liza’s generosity and the work which is done by The Great American Songbook Foundation. RAINBOW is infused with priceless Judy memorabilia which include Liza and her parents…we also have lobby cards for her, the films we love and rare unreleased recordings. We’ve put together moments where I actually was able to sing with Judy which always makes my heart beat faster. 

How did your personal friendship with Liza Minnelli influence the development and direction of RAINBOW?
Liza is so amazing. She continually points out that I have a very balanced perspective about her mother, that I understood this is an experience that must be celebratory while focusing on the reasons why Judy Garland became iconic. The legend will always be extraordinary when people listen to a recording or see one of her films or videos from her television series that still galvanizes, after all these years, her art which we hope to capture in RAINBOW: The New Judy Garland Musical. 

RAINBOW is described as a multimedia live show. Could you explain how you decided to integrate film clips, audio recordings, and photos into the live performance?
I feel the weight of her legend through the entire experience and longed to create something that would celebrate her in a way that she would want to be remembered and also to please her family. Liza was the person who suggested it. This event is one that was very carefully curated to include lots of photographs and film clips and concert footage.

Throughout the entire endeavor, the gravitas of her legacy was palpable, engendering in me a profound desire to craft a piece befitting of her memory—something that would resonate with how she herself would have wished to be commemorated, whilst simultaneously honoring her family's wishes.

The show features songs from Judy Garland's films, recordings, and concerts. How did you go about selecting which songs to include, and were there any that were particularly difficult to leave out?

Naturally, there were many elements we wished to include but could not due to time constraints on stage. Perhaps this leaves room for elongation. There’s tremendous material. The selected music and media highlight the various life experiences Judy encountered at different points in her living history, because she is truly omnipresent.

You've described RAINBOW as the most personal theatrical event of your career. Can you elaborate on what makes it so personal for you?
It’s deeply personal because of the incredible influence and the responsibility to Judy and her family. Judy defined giving “all to an audience”. 

Far too much has been written about ‘poor Judy Garland’ … ‘tragic Judy Garland’ … ‘sad Judy Garland’ Liza shared her mother was the funniest, happiest, most exciting person in the world. With the archives of music, recordings and visuals we are able to portray the true life and legacy that we all love.

Liza Minnelli has referred to the show as a "love letter" to Judy Garland. What message do you hope audiences take away about Judy's life and career?
RAINBOW celebrates the many colors of the legend. The show honors the gifts Judy Garland gave to each of us at the exchange of energy between this genius and her audience which grows each year with new generations. Judy Garland is very likely the first mega-star to fully embrace people who we now recognize as LGBTQIA+. There is a tendency to perceive certain legendary celebrities as tragic. I hope the audience will come to see her life as I do; triumphant. Triumphant in the sense that she brought the world such light, joy, hope, and transformative power through her songs. 

How has your background in preserving and interpreting the Great American Songbook influenced your approach to this project?

When it comes to RAINBOW: The New Judy Garland Musical, I approach it with the utmost reverence and attention to detail. Ms. Garland was a true icon, a beacon of emotion and authenticity in her performances. My background in preserving and interpreting the Great American Songbook allows me to understand the essence of her music, to delve into the nuances of her interpretations, and to ensure that her legacy is honored and celebrated in every note.

You see, it's not just about reproducing the songs; it's about capturing the essence of what made Judy Garland's performances so unforgettable. It's about conveying the depth of emotion, the raw honesty, and the sheer brilliance that she brought to every song she sang.

So, in essence, my background in preserving and interpreting the Great American Songbook has profoundly influenced my approach RAINBOW: The New Judy Garland Musical by imbuing it with a deep understanding of the musical heritage she was a part of and a commitment to upholding the standards of excellence that she embodied.

You've spent a significant amount of time exploring Judy Garland's archives. Can you share one item or piece of memorabilia that particularly moved you?

Actually, I’m a trustee of the Judy Garland estate, so I am always fortunate to come upon new and exciting items from her life and career.  I once found about a dozen recordings of her from her own record collection that were pretty extraordinary performances. For the most part, they had never been heard. It’s always thrilling to find things like that.

The title RAINBOW evokes Judy Garland's most famous song, 'Over the Rainbow.' Beyond the song, what does the concept of the rainbow symbolize in the context of this show?
RAINBOW: The New Judy Garland Musical is more than just a show; it's a poignant homage that encapsulates Judy Garland's unparalleled talent, her unique sense of humor, and her extraordinary ability to touch hearts deeply. Its title, echoing the timeless classic "Over the Rainbow," celebrates not just a song, but Judy's unparalleled gift to connect with the souls of people across generations. Judy Garland's legacy goes beyond her music; she is celebrated as a pioneering icon who shared a mutual affection and connection with all, including the gay community known today as LGBTQIA+ community, making her an enduring figure of love and inclusivity.

In creating new arrangements and medleys for the show, how did you aim to honor the original spirit of Judy Garland's performances while also offering something new to audiences?

Liza Minnelli has provided me unparalleled access to the extensive archives of Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli. Within these treasure troves, I have unearthed imagery and recordings that have remained unseen and unheard by the public eye and ear, revealing the quintessence of perhaps the most venerated artist of the twentieth century. RAINBOW is a musical that captures the brilliance, wit, depth, and celestial talent of Judy Garland that is astonishingly rare. Through this work, we endeavor to showcase the magnitude of a talent that is both ineffable and boundless. Despite her performances at Carnegie Hall and the Palace, Judy Garland never performed in a Broadway show, she certainly deserves one. And if RAINBOW: The New Judy Garland Musical is the genesis of that happening, Liza and I will be happy.

Finally, why must audiences come and see the show?

Because Judy Garland is and will always be relevant. Please experience her magic, which will be present at the Taper, April 13. 

RAINBOW: The New Judy Garland Musical stands as a landmark tribute, the result of more than thirty years of in-depth research, passionate performance, and a lifelong admiration for Judy Garland, one of the globe's most legendary artists. This production unfolds as an unreserved, musical multimedia tribute that shines a light on Judy, weaving together the beloved melodies we all cherish and insights from a life filled with boundless, radiant love.

Vote Sponsor