Somewhere beyond “Over the Rainbow” and Stonewall and every gay stereotype of the last 70 years, Judy Garland soldiers on in the hearts of music lovers everywhere, belting about “The Man That Got Away.” The incomparable performer might be celebrated this year, which marks the 50th anniversary of her death, but there’s no need for a special occasion to pay tribute to Garland’s artistry.
Anytime might be right for Signature Theater’s new Cabaret Series production Judy Garland: A Star Is Born, featuring two fabulous vocalists familiar to D.C. theatergoers — Awa Sal Secka (Ford’s The Wiz) and Katie Mariko Murray (Signature’s Passion), accompanied by pianist and music director Chris Urquiaga. And, in director Matthew Gardiner, the show boasts a guiding force who knows all about Judy.
“I have been obsessed with Judy Garland ever since I was very little,” says Gardiner. “The joke in my family is that when I came out to my mother in my 20s, she laughed at me and said, ‘Matthew you’ve owned every Judy Garland album since the age of seven.’ I was like, ‘That’s a horrible stereotype! And a true one.'”
Even though he knew all her songs “at a very young age,” Gardiner still discovered new, inspiring details about Garland’s career as he developed the cabaret set.
“[T]here are songs that I didn’t know the history of,” he says. “For example, we’re going to do a couple of Johnny Mercer songs because Johnny Mercer was so in love with Judy Garland that the subject of many of his songs is Judy. Several of them she recorded.” These include the standards, “Old Black Magic” and “Blues In The Night.”
Gardiner says the aim of the cabaret is to relay Garland’s emotion and storytelling, and a message that connects her to today’s audience.
“Somebody sent me a video the other day of Judy at the end of one of her Judy Garland Shows, just saying to the audience Happy New Year and hopefully we can all be a little kinder and a little gentler, and maybe next year we’ll like each other a little bit more,” Gardiner recalls.
“I think that Judy carried that sort of heart in her music and in her life. She brought all of us, I mean me certainly, so much joy. I think that’s not to be taken for granted. That bringing a little bit of joy and laughter and heart to what we do is what we need right now, reminding us why we’re human, and that’s what Judy did so well, was remind her audience of that.”
Judy Garland: A Star is Born runs through January 26, 2019 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington. Tickets are $38. Call 703-820-9771, or visit sigtheatre.org.