BWW Review: BABES OF HOLLYWOOD: THE MUSIC OF GARLAND & ROONEY at The Winter Park Playhouse
All it took was a single step through the front door of The Winter Park Playhouse to be immediately transported back into the golden years of Hollywood-and the days where Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney captivated audiences through their work on screens and stages of all sizes.
Tunes from the era poured through the lobby of the venue prior to the doors opening for "Babes of Hollywood: The Music of Garland and Rooney", setting the mood before the performers could even take to the stage. But the musical journey didn't end in the lobby on opening evening.
In front of a nearly full house, four performers (two men and two women) donned the styles of Rooney and Garland and took to the stage to bring an era of grace, beauty and humor to light once again.
Lea Marinelli (in the role of "Woman 1"), stole the show immediately with her beautiful ballads and emotional presentation of Garland's early music. Marinelli even brought the house to a thunderous roar with her rendition of "Over the Rainbow" halfway through Act One, and carried the momentum of that performance with her throughout the evening.
Marinelli's vocal skills and charm on stage channeled through each performance and won the crowds over easily. Her counterpart, Melissa Minyard (in the role of "Woman 2") did an equally stunning job of bringing the work of Garland to life with her graceful presence through a multitude of numbers. Together the two women carried the show on their shoulders, seamlessly transitioning from slapstick, vaudevillian-style comedy to heartfelt ballads in the blink of an eye.
The men of the show followed in a similar fashion but appeared to struggle a bit more with grasping and retaining the finesse and swagger of Rooney in their portrayals of his music. A few choreography missteps by Gavin Waters ("Man 1") and lyrical mix-ups by Ken Tibeau ("Man 2"), surfaced prior to intermission and jarred the initially smooth run. However, Tibeau showed a talent for upholding Rooney's light-hearted, childlike charm and carried through his performances naturally--even showing an excellent side of improvisation that occurred when an audience participation skit went slightly awry. During the performance and the participant's time on stage, the volunteer seemed to have lost his hearing aid at some point. While in search for the item, Tibeau turned to the audience and said with a shrug, "No wonder he was enjoying the show, he couldn't hear it!" His quick-witted humor made light of the situation and produced a comedic highlight of the show for everyone in the room--earning some of the biggest laughs of the evening.
The humor and acceptance of the audience seemed to break through some of the tension of opening night as Water then soared through the rest of the evening. His emotional solo of "After You've Gone" near the end of the show brought to life the hard-hitting impact that Garland's death had on Rooney into the theatre-carefully removing the humor that Rooney so often portrayed and revealing the feelings of sorrow the legend had struggled with during that period in his life.
The show itself was a journey to the golden era of Hollywood like no other. Though it had its share of bumps and hiccups that every opening night show can fall victim to, it also carried the emotional and heartfelt passion that live entertainment claims. The story itself made an excellent effort to portray the comedy of Rooney, the soaring grace and beauty of Garland, and the interwoven story of the lives of these two legendary figures.
"Babes of Hollywood: The Music of Garland & Rooney" is playing at The Winter Park Playhouse until Feb. 24, 2018.