Judy and Liza

Picture it, 1964, London Palladium, the world’s most iconic mother-daughter duo, Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli, took to the stage for their now infamous concert.

Fast forward 60 years, and Judy and Liza, now in its tenth year, tells the turbulent tale of two of the world's biggest stars against the backdrop of the aforementioned concert; adding more of their renowned hits from their careers to enhance the book whilst giving a whistle-stop tour of their lives behind the scenes.

The show is penned by Emma Dears, who has not only toured as Liza for over a decade but additionally has had an extensive career in shows such as Les Mis, Miss Saigon and Jesus Christ Superstar but to name a few. Dears is joined by Helen Sheals who, as well as having ample experience in live theatre and TV, is also no stranger to the role of Judy Garland- having played her previously in the musical Judy! in London’s West End. It is clear before the show begins, we are in safe hands with these two seasoned performers.

AV Design by Jamie Jenkins transports us back to Garland’s heyday as Vaudeville lightbulbs glow and simple projections are used effectively to illuminate the chronology of unfurling events.

Act 1 predominantly focuses on the childhood and early beginnings of Judy, giving the audience a glimpse into how Frances Gumm went from part of the Vaudeville act ‘The Gumm Sisters’ to becoming Judy Garland, the leading star of 1939 smash-hit The Wizard of Oz. It briefly touches on how the effects of Hollywood affected Garland from an early age: forced dieting, medication to supress her appetite and further medication to forcefully sustain the long working hours to complete the picture. Songs from both singers repertoire are expertly intertwined with the narrative to allow this show to be more bio-musical than concert review.

It could be quite easy for both performers to ham up their performances to parody or give a “tribute” to the stars, however they respectfully interpret the mannerisms of both women and there is surely now a hole in the Hope Mill Theatre as both performers blow the roof off with their power-house vocals.

Sheals has every nuance of Garland’s voice (both through diction and song), and effortlessly portrays the charm of Garland through her anecdotes as well as the trauma she experienced through her powerful and captivating performance. A heartbreaking highlight being the end of Act 1 with an emotional and haunting rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

Re-entering the stage for Act 2, it is now focused on Liza’s career. Here, we are presented with some timeline issues in the book- given Liza Minnelli’s (not Lisa Minoulli, for reference) most famous role as Sally Bowles in Cabaret was after her mother’s death. This could be chosen to be overlooked given other songs were incorporated to progress the story i.e. Liza With a “Z”- celebrating her birth. However, having Garland

introduce Minnelli as the Academy Award winner for 1972 just felt confusing and could easily be rectified by a voiceover akin to when Garland asks the audience what song she should sing next and “an audience member” shouts “Rainbow”, with her response being, “too soon for that”.

That being said, Dears gives a mesmerising performance as Liza. Again, her soft yet prominent nods to Minnelli’s speaking voice and mannerisms are first-class. Throughout, Dears’ subtle acting choices are sublime in their subtlety- the simplest of facial expressions as she proudly watches her “mother” performing. She truly comes into her own during Sorry I Asked with powerful belts and a heartbreaking performance.

Judy and Liza has something for everyone, whether a casual or die-hard fan. Dears and Sheals take the audience on an authentic and emotional journey, and it was an honour to witness their star power in such an intimate setting that is Hope Mill Theatre.

This show was reviewed in preview on the 28th May 2024 at the Hope Mill Theatre where it runs until the 2nd June 2024.  Tickets available here: Judy and Liza – Hope Mill Theatre

Full tour details can be found here: TOUR DATES | Mysite (judyandliza.co.uk)

Review written by Lee Gregory


Photo credit: Andrew AB

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