REVIEW: JUDY! (Arts Theatre) ★★★★★

The words ‘legend’ and ‘icon’ are often banded around when we refer to celebrities. Few would deny their application when referring to Hollywood Star Judy Garland however, whose undeniable resilience in the world of show business gave her an enduring appeal.

As such, we have long been regaled with stories about the actress, including her numerous successes and well documented flaws, but within Ray Rackham’s biographical play entitled simply Judy!, we are given an entertaining and balanced view, which will satisfy audiences’ thirst for knowledge while preserving the mystique surrounding the star.

Rackham cleverly overlaps three eras of Judy Garland’s career and envelops some of her biggest hit songs within the powerful dialogue, with a troika of talent each portraying their own particular timeframe.

Lucy Penrose is the fresh-faced adolescent Judy, making her first forays into the world of acting during the heyday of MGM studios, while Belinda Wollaston depicts a darker more tormented soul, jaded by the rigors of showbiz.

Helen Sheals completes the trio and couples both a desperation and steely determination in her presentation of Judy Garland’s time on a CBS television show, which was beset with trouble.

Despite the fact that the three performers are all portraying the same, very well- known personality, they all bring something different to the table, with Lucy Penrose beautifully capturing the optimism of the young star and displaying a similar level of vocal prowess despite her small stature. Belinda Wollaston conversely displays a haunted and serious side to Garland, while Helen Sheals perfectly portrays her more comedic capacity.

The use of actor/musicians as the supporting cast gives it a familial feeling and ensures the songs are seamlessly synthesised into the action, while the utility-style set design (by Tom Paris) enables the audience to solely focus on the cast’s performances.

When the songs do come along, it is one hit after another, performed with absolute authenticity including rousing renditions of “The Trolley Song”, “Get Happy” and a highly emotional interpretation of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.

Judy! is a real theatrical gem, which deserves high praise and a much longer stage life than the few weeks it is being given at the Arts Theatre.

Reviewed by Mark Worsley
Photo: Lara Genovese

Judy! is at the Arts Theatre until 17 June 2017