Review: GET HAPPY! MICHAEL FEINSTEIN CELEBRATES THE JUDY GARLAND CENTENNIAL at Music Center at Strathmore

Singer Feinstein possesses a light baritone voice that caresses each lyric and melody with loving and expressive care. 

By: Sep. 24, 2023
Review: GET HAPPY! MICHAEL FEINSTEIN CELEBRATES THE JUDY GARLAND CENTENNIAL at Music Center at Strathmore

The brilliant and undying talent of the legendary entertainer Judy Garland was celebrated at the Music Center at Strathmore in the memory-laden production Get Happy! Michael Feinstein Celebrates the Judy Garland Centennial. Produced with the approval of daughter Liza Minnelli, this memorable show displayed the iconic talent of Judy Garland as interpreted and narrated by the wonderfully talented singer, pianist, and archivist Michael Feinstein.

A sense of Garland as the sensitive and artistic survivor came through and it was refreshing to see Garland presented as a full-bodied human being who had humor, played tennis (via fascinating rare home movies), adored her family, and had a quiet sense of faith in God.  Judy Garland was portrayed as a very caring person who may have been the supreme artist but who was also, concurrently, down-to-earth and a loving, relatable individual.

Singer Feinstein possesses a light baritone voice that caresses each lyric and melody with loving and expressive care.  I have seen Mr. Feinstein twice in performance previously and his voice has grown more rich and textured especially in his lower register. For several of the beloved songs that were in this concert honoring Ms. Garland, Mr. Feinstein seemed to be conserving his vocal power for the closing notes of the songs ---these final notes were delivered with breathtaking resonance and powerful clarity.

A series of rare clips and footage and recordings were set amongst some that were more well-known---this production was a must-see concert for Judy Garland aficionados. Luckily, the audience was privileged to hear the archival and anecdotal narrative of Mr. Feinstein (who is part of the inner circle of Ms. Minnelli and the music greats who loved and revered her talent ------including such greats as George and Ira Gershwin, Arthur Freed, and Roger Edens).

The show’s theme enveloped the opening song “Get Happy” (from the wonderful film Summer Stock) and set the mood for the primarily upbeat tone of the show. This upbeat and classic opening soon gave way to a creative re-wording of the song “That’s Entertainment” into an overview of many of the facts of Garland’s life in “That’s Judy Garland”.

Early years of Vaudeville with the Gumm sisters were explored via film footage displayed on a large screen-- and Garland’s years performing with Mickey Rooney were also explored to nostalgic effect. The beloved songs “How About You?” (a marvelous “list” song) and “Our Love Affair” were performed with flair in the optics shown of the combustible Rooney and Garland pairing.

The now-iconic scene of Judy Garland penning a note to star Clark Gable singing “Dear Mr. Gable: You Made Me Love You” brought tears of nostalgia to this reviewer.

Feinstein introduced a rare recording of the classic “I’ll be Seeing You” sung with all the poignancy and nuanced luster that only Judy Garland could provide. I could feel the audience held spellbound in absorbing this number’s mesmerizing beauty of tone.

The MGM musicals were highlighted with an amusing and erudite interpretation by Mr. Feinstein singing (and at the piano) with the marvelously inventive “If I Only Had a Brain/Heart/Nerve” from The Wizard of Oz. The music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg never cease to amuse and delight.

Songs from MGM musicals continued to delight the audience with “The Trolley Song” from Meet Me in St. Louis, a very lively “On The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” from The Harvey Girls and the lovely duet “For Me and My Gal” from the movie of the same name.

There was an exceptionally effective ode to family life in a trilogy of songs that were linked with Judy Garland’s loving family. Daughter Liza Minnelli, Daughter Lorna Luft and son Joey Luft were all profiled via lovely songs that their appropriately doting mother sang to her children presumably in family life as well as onstage.

“You’ll Never Walk Alone” was an inspired choice of song for Mr. Feinstein to sing as the concert came closer to the end as it could well be an anthem that Ms. Garland kept in her heart during the challenges of her personal life and her challenging projects after her MGM years.

However, it was very fittingly emphasized in this production that Ms. Garland triumphed with the film A Star is Born as well as in several very highly acclaimed concert appearances –particularly at Carnegie Hall, the Palace Theatre, and the London Palladium.

Encores for Mr. Feinstein’s innovative and heartfelt celebration of Ms. Garland continued with a knockout performance of “Come Rain or Come Shine” which Mr. Feinstein sang to the rafters.

The closing note to the concert came with Mr. Feinstein accompanying a screen appearance of Ms. Garland singing her classic signature song “Over the Rainbow”. Mr. Feinstein accompanied with his sensitive pianist skills.

Mr. Feinstein possessed a confident upbeat manner throughout the evening, yet he also has a reassuring and gentle manner that came through in his singing, narrating and pianist skills. (Feinstein was backed up by three talented gentlemen on the piano, bass, and percussion). There was a bouncy, “swinging” undercurrent throughout many of the jazzier songs which added dimension and texture to the musical proceedings.

The pleasure that the legendary Judy Garland gave to her audiences over the years was palpable in this honest yet loving and affectionate celebration of the 100th Anniversary celebration of this iconic and revered entertainer.  This loving showcase for the legendary Judy Garland as presented by the talented Michael Feinstein should play well in other cities and venues in this tour.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission

Get Happy! Michael Feinstein Celebrates the Judy Garland Centennial was presented on Thursday, September 21, 2023 at the Music Center at Strathmore located at 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, Maryland 20852.


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