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Tottie Goldsmith reviews JUDY AUSTRALIA 1964.
"I can live without money, but I cannot live without love."
I’ll start this review by stating loud and proud, “I love Judy Garland!”
JUDY • AUSTRALIA • 1964 focuses on Judy Garland’s infamous concert tour of Australia that made headlines around the world for all the wrong reasons. Judy Garland played here by acclaimed jazz singer Nina Ferro, was regarded by many as one of the world’s most outstanding live performers. Her Grammy award-winning performance recorded live at Carnegie Hall cemented her reputation. By 1964 Australians were desperate to see their idol, and in May of that year, they finally got her in the flesh. What could possibly go wrong? In Sydney, she performed well, receiving rave reviews. But by the time she stepped on stage at Festival Hall in Melbourne, not a grand palace by any means, she was an hour late and in terrible shape. The restless crowd tired quickly of her drunken banter and eventually booed her off stage.
JUDY • AUSTRALIA • 1964 is told from the perspective of Aussie impresario the late Harry M. Miller, played by actor Matt Hetherington. It’s presented as part of Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival and appears a good fit. After all, Judy Garland loved gay men, and her husband movie director Vincent Minnelli was bisexual. Liza Minnelli, Judy’s daughter, married a queer man, Aussie singer Peter Allen. In fact, gays worldwide love Judy. With all the colours of the rainbow to draw on, is this production of Judy Garland’s ill-fated tour of Oz any good?
Well, let me start off by saying, Nina Ferro is amazing as Judy Garland. Garland’s vocal range and soaring notes are hard to duplicate but Ferro does the job easily. Her characterisation is also on point, she never once overplays her hand or comes off as cliche. This is vocally a brilliant performance and Ferro is a class act. Matt Hetherington’s Harry M. Miller is also strong. I worked at an agency that helped publicise a show produced by Harry M. Miller for the Sydney Mardi Gras back in the 90s, and Hetherington definitely nails Harry’s likeability factor. But the real Harry M. Miller when pissed off could be fiery. I assure you of that!
Perhaps Bill Farr’s script could have added a few direct lines of conflict between Harry and Judy. And the face slap Judy lands on Harry, which is mentioned in Harry’s first-act monologue, could also be shown. As written by Farr and directed by Lauren McKinnon, the characters occupy the same stage but are only united in the closing song. I felt some interaction and personalisation were needed well before the close to strengthen the drama and reinforce that they occupy the same place and time. Hats off to the eight-piece showband and Musical Director Phillipa Edwards, job well done! The band was crisp and smooth and the sound in the National Theatre was excellent.
JUDY • AUSTRALIA • 1964 is a terrific night out. If you love Judy Garland’s voice and all her classic songs, they’re here to relish, sung by the brilliant Nina Ferro. If you aren’t a Garland fan, you will be by the end of the performance. And if you’re already a fan, like me, it’s the next best thing to seeing her live at Carnegie Hall in April 1961. Whatever you do, don’t let this be the show that got away.
Photography by Ross Green.
Review of matinee performance 11th February 2023, National Theatre, Melbourne.
More Info: https://linktr.ee/noelanderson
I was at that Festival Hall concert as a young boy. I’ll never forget it. I saw how easily an audience can go from love to hate to love to hate again. The monster with a thousand eyes as they say.
Nina was exquisite. Matt was amazing. The musical director and band were brilliant. What an absolutely fantastic evening. So good in fact I saw it twice! 2 pm matinee and 7 pm evening.
Andrew Broadbent as promoter Harry M. Miller.
JUDY • AUSTRALIA • 1964 went from just an idea to its world premiere at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre in just six short months in 2019. Its original iteration – a one-hour cabaret-style presentation – starred the wonderful Australian dramatic contralto Liane Keegan as Judy Garland, with talented Alistair Fearson as Harry M Miller, in three sold-out performances.
After a COVID-interrupted two years, the full two-act production was presented for the first time at Melbourne’s Whitehorse Centre in 2021. Starring Australia’s highly respected jazz singer Nina Ferro as Garland and the gifted theatre performer Andrew Broadbent as Miller, the production was again a great success, and we look forward to presenting this remarkable story from Australia’s cultural history with audiences around the country.
The success of the show is due to the magnificent talents of originally Liane Keegan and now Nina Ferro, the compelling story telling of writer Bill Farr, and of course the wonderful Judy Garland. It presents Garland honestly – in all her greatness, and in all her vulnerability – all through the microcosm of her dramatic 12 day Australian tour.
First produced in the 50th year since Garland’s death the show struck a chord and garnered much public and media attention with interviews on ABC TV, Channel 9, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Melbourne Press Club and numerous radio stations.
“Skunkworks Productions brings ‘Judy • Australia • 1964.” to Melbourne audiences with all of the respect and heart it deserves, as it explores one of Judy’s most pivotal performance moments at the height of her personal struggles.” Nicola Bennett, Theatre Travels
“This truly is a theatrical ode to all that Judy was - glamorous, moving, and above all, a very human experience.” Nicola Bennett, Theatre Travels
“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.” Julie Houghton, Classic Melbourne
The show had its genesis in a chance conversation on a bus while on tour in Europe in 2018. Musical Director Phillipa Edwards mentioned to writer Bill Farr that Skunkworks was looking to produce a show about Judy Garland. Bill, who had had a fascination with Garland for many years, suspected that there was great potential for a musical drama in Garland’s ill-fated tour of Australia in 1964.
He had already thoroughly research the tour for a series of drawings he’d done for an exhibition in 2011. The script came easily, with a perfect theatrical dramatic arc. Throw in sixteen of Garland’s greatest songs, and the rest is history.
Skunkworks brought everyone together to set in motion a show that became an instant hit. A great performer such as Judy Garland deserves an honest presentation that showcases her incredible talents, but also tells of her struggles with the pressures of stardom and substance abuse.
In 1964 in a move that would help shape his future career, promoter Harry M. Miller got Judy to Australia for a series of concerts in Sydney and Melbourne. One of the most eagerly awaited show-business events ever in Australia evolved, for it’s star, into a roller-coaster ride of incredible highs and unbelievable lows. Stunning success in Sydney, humiliating failure in Melbourne. Over twelve short days we see Garland’s life unravel as her legendary power to triumph over adversity finally fails her.