BWW Review: Becky O'Brien shows off in A GARLAND FOR JUDY at Laurie Beechman Theatre
Laurie Beechman, NYC, November 5th, 2019
Comfortable on the stage, Becky O'Brien is the latest talent tv show success story (via Britain's Got Talent) to take her show on the road. She's confident, charming, and hits strong on many key points to warrant well-deserved attention. Her debut on a New York stage was in the classic cabaret form, showcasing the career of a particular performer whilst sharing some key stories from that performer's as well as her own career. O'Brien, although British by origin, has had some success finding firm notes from some of Judy Garland's most infamous classics such as "The Boy Next Door." She's toured alongside her band, "The Rat Pack and Judy" as well as alongside Garland's daughter, Lorna Luft in Judy - The Songbook of Judy Garland. This infatuation with the classic American diva led O'Brien to put on her own tribute show. Informative on Garland and witty when it mattered, O'Brien balanced singing with dancing and jokes to create a sense of novelty. It's clear that she's become well-acquainted with putting on shows across the pond, though as she said in song, "Until you've played the palace (in this case New York), you haven't played the top."
O'Brien hasn't had the easiest road in life, as previous profiles on her, as well as interviews, describe. Perhaps that's why one of my favorite numbers, as the show started to really take off, was "Smile." The classic John Turner/Geoffrey Parsons lyrics to the 1936 Modern Times instrumental by Charlie Chaplin are as moving now as they ever were. From a woman who spreads the message of escaping a controlling relationship and looking for warning signs, the line, "smile and maybe tomorrow, you'll see the sun come shining through," touches a listener a little deeper. Her special guest, Crystal Cimaglia, enjoyed the performance too, remarking kindly that she'd have to follow up on an incredible showing of such an emotional song.
Cimaglia wasn't just on stage to compliment O'Brien however. The duo performed a stellar Judy-Barbra medley where they dug a little deeper than the common cabaret duet of "Get Happy" and "Happy Days are Here Again." I'm not sure anything is as iconic as Judy-Barbra singing over one another, but Cimaglia and O'Brien had some impressive trade offs between lines. Cimaglia for example sang, "I like New York in June how about you," while O'Brien sang, "It's wonderful, it's marvelous." Their timing was truly exceptional too, and felt as if they had practiced often together. For example, Cimaglia sang the line, "Every road I walk along I walk along with," before O'Brien broke in belting the word, "you" to start off the next song too.
Of course, this night belonged to O'Brien and she showed why in a thrilling trio of songs that made up her finale. Her performances of "The Man that Got Away," Kay Thompson's arrangement of "Just in Time," and "Somewhere over the Rainbow" had the audience sufficiently awed. Each note that came from her tiny frame on this trio soared. My favorite was O'Brien's singing of "The Man That Got Away." Among all her performances, this one felt especially meaningful as she pined for lost love with lines like, "the winds grow colder, suddenly you're older," and "a one-man woman looking for the man that got away." Ending on "Somewhere over the Rainbow" was a little bittersweet, though it perhaps more accurately reflected the glass-half-full optimism that O'Brien exuded in her words; in some ways this is a very similar trait she has in common with her inspiration for the show, Garland. Overall, I'd go see her again and her videos are fun to watch.