There aren't too many theatres that can boast to being the perfect home for a show. The Arts Theatre can now tick that off of their bucket list. Intimate, with its moody interior representing the very exterior of this piece, Ray Rackham's Judy! could, and I feel most definitely should, have an extended run.
The three Judys (CBS Judy, Palace Judy, and Young Judy) melded together seamlessly. CBS Judy started off with Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries, and from there the production soared, indeed, as if it were over the rainbow. Rackham has paid attention to the small details - the stage didn’t alter, there wasn’t too much going on at any one time that was distracting, it was perfectly set up so that the three incarnations of Judy, and their lives and relationships at the three given points in her lifetime, were the sole focus of attention.
CBS Judy (Helen Sheals) dominated the stage from the moment she arrived. Not-so-quietly confident, eschewing the critics who put her on the pedestal and then, just as swiftly knocked her back off again, gave the standout performance for me. At one point, I was querying myself whether she was actually singing and not miming, the melodic magnificence of her voice so very true to the original.
Palace Judy (Belinda Wollaston) portrays the altogether more hectic Judy, in the midst of her pill and alcohol addiction. Her imitation was beautifully put together. Palace Judy showed us her vulnerability towards men, and in particular, her relationship with Harry Anton's Sid Luft was exceptional. It could be said that Belinda has the most difficult Judy to portray: Judy in her prime. This was no easy feat and Ms Wollaston succeeded with cool aplomb.
Young Judy was singing her heart out, whilst on the brink of a nervous breakdown. A indomitable mother who could, perhaps, have been living out a withheld dream through her daughter, by adhering to every snap of show business's brittle finger. 'You are too fat, the studio doesn’t like it', 'you are not pretty' - comments that, at such a vulnerable age, most definitely contributed towards the fragility of Judy's life. Lucy Penrose should be applauded for showing such tenacity to this role.
Everyone remembers Judy for Dorothy, clicking her heels and wanting to go home. Rackham allows us to remember Judy, in all of her Garland Glory.
Please note: Opinions expressed on the londontheatredirect.com blog are those of the relevant contributors, not of London Theatre Direct Ltd, its owners or staff. London Theatre Direct Ltd is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by contributors.