When I hear "Somewhere over the Rainbow", a gaggle of munchkins comes to mind, running around a yellow brick road, together with a good witch and a bad witch, one distinctly painted in green. All of witch will remind you to go and book your tickets to see Wicked. But I digress. When I hear the soft, melodic opening bars, I think of a young Judy Garland with her hair in pigtails and a little dog under her arm, singing her blues away. Oh, what a good actress Judy was.
In 1938 young Frances Ethel Gumm, who audiences came to know and love as Judy Garland, was cast in the role of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. From an early age, Judy was plagued by self-esteem issues. This was exacerbated by studio executives telling her she was unattractive and fat. On the set of Oz, she was asked to survive solely on chicken soup. Such was her commitment at that impressionable age that she did as she was told.
Following The Wizard of Oz, her career began its meteoric ascendency. But, as is common in Hollywood, her professional career took its toll on her personal life. She was financially unstable; she married five times, with her first four marriages ending in divorce. Drugs and alcohol played their part as well, culminating in her untimely death at the age of 47 from a barbiturate overdose.
Writer-director Ray Rackham has taken on the dauntingly complex task of documenting Judy's life through his new play, Judy!. The play cleverly chronicles Judy’s life in three segments. The play begins with Judy being discovered, followed by her spectacular stardom. The play concludes with her heartbreaking descent into booze and drugs. This is a fascinating and intelligent work. Rightfully, and not surprisingly, audiences are clamouring for tickets to see it.
People commonly associate Judy with Dorothy. When her famous red ruby slippers were on display at the V&A, people of all ages were in attendance. Her contralto voice had the ability, much like the bluebirds over the rainbow, to soar high and fly wide. It is sad to think such a talented woman loved by millions lived a life fraught with demons. It has been said that her short life was a long suicide. It is difficult to find light in a place that is known for its shade. Ray masterfully reflects the nobility and the festering underbelly that is the Hollywood mystique as it collides with the human condition. He says "we examine the person because we want to learn more about ourselves and our place in this ever-changing world". Rackham states that throughout the play, he continues to find aspects of Judy’s life with which we can empathise.
There will always be something for the audience to identify with. Is it relevant to the 21st century? Absolutely. Much lies on the producers, executives and directors to make Through the Mill into Judy!. Like all of us, Judy yearns to find peace in her heart, whether that be in Oz with the Wizard or in Shaftesbury Avenue, on the stage.
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