Music Theater Works
Judy Garland:Come Rain or Come Shine
At Music Theater Works by Dan Zeff
Evanston– It’s easy to see and hear why Angela Ingersoll is such a good fit to perform a Judy Garland concert. Ingersoll bears a striking facial resemblance to Garland and she has the large, expressive Garland voice. She also has a large store of Garland anecdotes and biographical lore she enjoys sharing with an audience. Ingersoll has put together a one-woman Garland musical tribute previously staged in California and St. Louis and now installed for a short run at the Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston.
Ingersoll’s show, titled “Judy Garland: Come Rain or Come Shine,” is the annual small scale musical production presented by the Music Theater Works. Ingersoll’s performance is a celebration rather than an impersonation but she naturally steps into the Garland persona with her voice, looks, and manner. The concert is also a tip of the hat to the American songbook of hits composed during the 1930’s and 1940’s. In that sense it’s a nostalgia trip that thoroughly appropriate for the mostly senior citizen audience the Music Theater Works attracts.
During her long show, Ingersoll delivers about two dozen numbers, including great Garland anthems like “The Man That Got Away,” “The Trolley Song,” Stormy Weather,” and the iconographic “Over the Rainbow.” Ingersoll is an animated high energy singer who uses a hand-held microphone as she cavorts all over the stage. There is no set and no special effects. The only props are bottles of water (Ingersoll must have ingested a gallon of liquid during the evening). A quick question-and-answer session at the end of the show was dispensable, at least on opening night.
Ingersoll certainly knows her Garland trivia and by the end of the show the spectators will know Judy’s favorite color (yellow) as well as intimate stories about her personal and show business life, starting with her performing at the age of 5 under her domineering mother, apparently a gorgon who makes the stage mother in “Gypsy” look like Snow White. There are brief accounts of Garland’s marital woes (five husbands), though no references to Vincente Minnelli and daughter Liza, unless I missed them. Garland did bond with her son Joey Luft, performing with him in occasional tribute concerts.
Virtually every number on Ingersoll’s play list belongs in the pop music Hall of Fame and she delivers them with belting exuberance. There are especially rousing renditions of familiar songs by Al Jolson. She gives the full high drama treatment to “The Man That Got Away” but dials down for an affecting tender treatment to “Over the Rainbow.” Ingersoll reserves much of the second act to narrating the ups and downs of Garland’s movie career, including her battles with the medications the MGM movie studio brass forced on her to keep her musical motor running during a brutal filming schedule.
MGM cut Garland loose at the age of 28, figuring she was washed up. But she reinvented herself in concerts throughout Europe and the United States. Her Carnegie Hall concerts in 1961 took on the aura of religious rituals between an adoring audience and charismatic performer.
Ingersoll’s affection and respect for Garland are palpable and carry over the footlights to an audience I suspect was presold on enjoying music and a superstar they grew up with. Many spectators likely first heard some of the songs as young people attending movies starring Garland and Mickey Rooney in the late 1930’s and 1940’s.There was much use of smart phones in the opening night audience recording her singing, with Ingersoll’s tacit approval.
The show might still have been effective with basic piano accompaniment, but a small on stage band enhanced the musical experience and deserves individual identification—Jeremy Kahn (piano and conductor), Patrick Mulcahy (bass), Vance Okraszewski (drums), Alex Beltran (reeds), John Moore, Jr. (trumpet), and Timothy Coffman (trombone).
Before the performance began, it was announced that general manager Bridget McDonough (and organization co-founder when it was known as the Light Opera Works) and artistic director Rudy Hogenmiller would step down after the 2020 season. Kyle Dugan will take over as producing artistic director.
Next year’s schedule was also announced, with three main stage productions set for the Cahn Auditorium—“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (June 8-16), the Chicago professional premiere of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (August 17-25), and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” (December 21-31). The selection for the Nichols Concert Hall will be devoted to the music of Lerner and Loewe (October 4-13). The current season concludes with “Into the Woods” at the Cahn Auditorium December 22-31.
In offering the Garland concert, the Music Works can congratulate itself on presenting a no frills show unmarred by distracting production values. Ingersoll may seem a little too “on” at some moments but Judy Garland’s life and music invite an outsized approach. For lovers of Broadway and Hollywood hits born during America’s pop music golden age, the show is continuously satisfying.
The show gets a rating of.
“Judy Garland: Come Rain or Come Shine” runs through October 14 at the Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 2 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets begin at $34. Call (847) 920-5360 or visit www.MusicTheaterWorks.com.