I can live without money, but I cannot live without love.Judy Garland
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.
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