Review: YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU at Footlights Theatre

A Musical Tribute to Judy Garland

By: Sep. 10, 2023
Review: YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU at Footlights Theatre

It is a bit difficult to categorize the show, You Made Me Love You, a musical tribute to Judy Garland currently playing at the Footlights Theatre in Falmouth.

In a way, it is a jukebox musical like Jersey Boys or Beautiful, The Carole King Story. It features 10 of the most memorable numbers performed by the legendary Judy Garland taken from among the 34 musicals that she created at the Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) studios. And like the jukebox genre, the story centers on Garland’s humble beginnings as a child star, Frances Ethel Gumm in vaudeville, to a seasoned Academy Award nominee and Hollywood icon. The jukebox journey often reflects that there were lots of struggles to overcome before the days of fame and success set in.

Under the direction of artistic director, Michael Tobin, You Made Me Love You is much more than another jukebox. In the intimate space of the Falmouth theater, the show is part cabaret and part documentary mixed in with exceptional storytelling. It feels like you’ve had Judy Garland as a guest in your living room as she talks frankly about her turbulent life while occasionally singing her heart out with the ageless classics from her repertoire.

The show stars Jennine Cannizzo as the famed songstress accompanied by pianist and music director, Charlie Grindle.  Her stories and vocals, supported by Tobin’s addition of Garland’s real-life photos and videos, makes for a one-of-a-kind stage experience.

Cannizzo is the heart and soul of the show with a performance that is spectacular. She looks a bit like Garland with the gait and mannerisms of the star. But her strength is in capturing Garland’s warm, rich, and incredibly velvety voice and the power that she poured into all her vocals. She gives a lilting quality to upbeat numbers like “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart,” and “The Trolley Song.” And there’s genuine angst and emotion in the likes of “The Man That Got Away” and “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows.”

Beyond her gifted voice, Cannizzo is a gifted storyteller. She is Garland reincarnated when her character talks about her domineering mother and the grasp of the MGM studio that made her a star but at a great cost to her individuality, and her physical and mental health.  The character is candid about her use of alcohol and pills to either “make her sleep or keep her awake” and she’s brutally honest telling the audience about the ups and downs of her five marriages. And Cannizzo particularly captures Garland’s joy derived from performing and from her children, Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft, and Joey Luft.  

In a 90-minute production with no intermission, the show moves effortlessly from stories to singing and on to multimedia images and back again. It is a perfectly paced journey with a story that unfortunately ends tragically when Garland dies at the age of 47. You’ll appreciate that Gary Upton’s script is straightforward, honest, with no sugar coating of Garland’s story.

The show’s emotional highpoint is when Cannizzo’s Garland tells of her friendship with President John Kennedy. They were true friends, she said. When Kennedy was murdered, says Garland, preferring not to call the act an assassination, she wanted to sing The Battle Hymn of the Republic on her television show as a tribute to Kennedy. The show’s producers nixed the idea, but Garland did it anyway. The video capturing the moment is a stirring addition to the show, especially when the script reveals that Garland’s television show was suddenly cancelled after the incident. Cannizzo portrays the moment with perfection.

As might be expected, the show ends with a rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” a tune that would hallow and haunt Garland’s entire life. It is a special moment when Cannizzo’s Garland tells the audience to remember her as that youthful and vibrant Dorothy Gale.

If you thrive on behind the scenes stories of the golden years of Hollywood, You Made Me Love You will not disappoint. Cannizzo’s portrayal, supported by Grindle and Tobin’s vision, will leave you with one of the most inspiring theater experiences of the year.

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