Judy – Australia- 1964 is a triumph for its leading lady Liane Keegan and new company Skunkworks Productions. Written by Bill Farr, the show traces the story of superstar Judy Garland’s long-awaited tour of Australia that went disastrously wrong. With talented actor Alistair Frearson guiding us through the show as impresario Harry M Miller, we witness the star power of Judy Garland, her incredible voice brought to life in a triumphant performance from operatic contralto Keegan, who has delighted many thousands of music lovers here and in Europe as a fine interpreter of Wagner. In this show she effortlessly produces a magnificent music theatre belt voice and simply becomes Judy. Superb musical support is provided by a 7-piece band under the direction of assured Maestro Phillipa Edwards, well known in national brass band circles as a pre-eminent band conductor. She is equally at home with her cast of seven brilliant musicians, including a very smooth performance on trumpet from Edwards’ husband Jamie Lawson, so this production is something of a family affair and all the stronger for that.
Keegan’s ability to inhabit the voice and persona of Garland is magical, and Frearson is the perfect link man to take us on the journey as he plays second fiddle to the mercurial and maddening Garland as she descends into a haze of alcohol and drugs.
Initially there was a slight problem with the balance between the band and both soloists, but after a few minutes everything settled and one of the great things about this production is that the diction from both performers was so crisp that we understood every word.
Garland had a magnificent voice, as does Keegan, and Garland classics like “Smile” and “Over The Rainbow” were just a couple that Keegan relished singing, and her rendition of Nancy’s angst-ridden ballad from the musical Oliver!, “As Long As He Needs Me” was so emotionally powerful that it will linger in this audience member’s memory for a long time.
Bill Farr’s script works extremely well, and my only gripe is that I would have liked a little more – the show ended before I was ready to let the story of Judy in Australia go. However, an extended version with big band is in the pipeline, so we can look forward to that to complete the picture.
The esteemed late conductor Richard Gill used to tell aspiring young singers “get a good classical technique and you can sing anything.” Liane Keegan is a perfect example of that dictum – a singer who is equally at home on Europe’s opera stages and Melbourne’s intimate cabaret stage upstairs at The Athenaeum.
This is Skunkworks Production’s first offering – may there be many more of this quality, because there is an audience out there who will flock to see shows like Judy – Australia – 1964.
It only runs until Saturday and opening night was sold out so don’t wait too long before heading to ticketek.com.au to book.