It's Almost Like Being Alive: "Judy Garland in Concert"

Judy Garland in Concert

Presented by Running Subway and EMI Music Publishing; James Sanna, executive producer; John Fricke, creative supervisor; Leah Gelpe, projection designer; Garin Marschall, lighting designer; Dan Gerhard, sound designer; Keith Reamer, video editor; Fred Rosenberg, audio editor; Randy Briggs and Austin Switser, projection programmers; Don Oliver/Chelsea Music Services, Inc., music preparation supervisor; Don Gilmore, technical director; Phyllis Schray, production stage manager; Chris Giordano, producer and director; Doug Katsaros, musical supervisor, new orchestral arrangements, and conductor

The Boston Pops may have set off some rousing fireworks when it brought its 2008 season officially to a close on July 4 at the Hatch Shell on the Charles River Esplanade, but indoors at Symphony Hall on June 28 and 29, the orchestra set off some major virtual sparks when it brought Judy Garland back to life. In a multi-media world premiere tribute that incorporated home movies, photographs, concert footage, and Judy's own narration culled from major television interviews, the Pops accompanied the late great star as she sang nearly 30 of her most famous songs.

Judy's son Joe Luft was on hand to introduce Judy Garland in Concert and reminisce about a 1967 appearance on Boston Common that had 108,000 rabid fans in attendance. Huddled beside his mother in a limousine as it made its way slowly through the crowd, the young Luft feared for their safety, not knowing what to make of the cheering throng. On this 2008 night cheers welcomed him and his mother to Boston again as hundreds of vocal admirers whooped, whistled, and applauded long and loud, just as if Judy were actually in the room.

Guest conductor Doug Katsaros, the musical supervisor and orchestral arranger for Judy Garland in Concert, led the Pops through a 33-year legacy of memorable movie and recorded hits. A parade of torchy ballads including "Come Rain or Come Shine," "The Man That Got Away," and the melancholy "A Cottage for Sale" reminded us of Judy's unique combination of stunning vocal control and emotional vulnerability. A pulsating "After You've Gone" showed the plucky survivor. The jazzy and joyous "Just in Time" followed by the big band swing medley of "Almost Like Being in Love" and "This Can't Be Love" was testament to her tremendous joie de vivre. Her tribute to past vaudeville stars, and her own childhood roots – a medley of "Judy at the Palace," "Shine On, Harvest Moon," "Some of These Days," "My Man" and "I Don't Care" – brought her rich, bluesy interpretations to the forefront.

Perhaps the most evocative number of the evening was the one that showcased what was reportedly Judy's favorite arrangement – Schwartz and Dietz's "By Myself." Building from a painful sadness to complacent acceptance to a loud and proud determination to go on, Judy turned sorrow into confident optimism. Perhaps it was this interpretation that influenced daughter Liza's inspired take on Kander and Ebb's "Maybe This Time."

Throughout Judy Garland in Concert, the synchronization of the Pops' orchestral accompaniments with Judy's television and concert performances was uncanny. Arrangements alternated between sadness, exuberance, playfulness, and intimacy in perfect harmony with the legendary singer's mercurial expressions. With iconic images projected on a large screen positioned just above the conductor's podium, Judy's eyes penetrated the audience, her voice and vitality raising goose bumps with nearly every song. Her soulful, almost introspective "Over the Rainbow" near the end of the show brought tears to more than one eye.

The creators of Judy Garland in Concert have sequenced the slides, interviews, videos and songs to tell Judy's personal and professional stories in an emotionally powerful but also immensely entertaining way. For those of us who only knew the star from movies and television appearances, this concert enables a whole new generation to enjoy and appreciate her tremendous stage charisma and live performance genius. We also come to understand and empathize with the woman whose early career was controlled by agents and studios and whose later life was plagued by illness and industry-induced prescription drug addiction. Lost to the world at the age of 47, Judy's unrivaled talents and contributions to the American musical canon are immortalized in this stunning and admirable multi-media event.

May Judy Garland in Concert find its way to many more symphony stages around the world. I suspect Carnegie Hall and the London Palladium would love to have her back.

With the regular Symphony Hall season now over, Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops move to Tanglewood on Tuesday, July 8, for an encore performance of "A Little Night Music in Concert" starring Christine Ebersole, Ron Raines, Bobbie Steinbach and Fellows from the Tanglewood Music Center. On July 26 John Williams returns to the podium to conduct the orchestra in the annual "Film Night at Tanglewood." On August 2 Lockhart and the Pops go on tour to the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset and on August 3 to the Hyannis Town Green on Cape Cod. For more information and tickets, visit www.bostonpops.org.

 

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From This Author Jan Nargi

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