Connie Champagne plays Judy

Garland in "Judy's Scary Christmas."

12/12/03

Judy's Scary Christmas

By Jay Reiner

Bottom line: Connie Champagne's dazzling performance as Judy Garland hosting a 1959 TV special makes this show a true holiday treat.

Court Theatre, West Hollywood

Through Dec. 29

Don't look now but Judy Garland is back in town, starring in a wonderfully strange show called "Judy's Scary Little Christmas." This is not an impressionist or impersonator but the real Judy Garland, in the flesh, acting and singing her brave, jumpy little heart out just as we remember her.

This flight of fancy will be forgiven by those fortunate individuals who have already seen Connie Champagne's tour de force as the legendary Garland. The show debuted last year at this time to much acclaim. Champagne is so good that it's possible to believe that Garland has actually been reincarnated, right down to the last fluttery gesture and vibrato note.

This is not, however, a one-woman show. Garland is surrounded by such luminaries as Bing Crosby (Sean Smith), Ethel Merman (Lauri Johnson), Joan Crawford (Joanne O'Brien), Liberace (Don Lucas) and -- an inspired pairing -- Richard Nixon and Lillian Hellman (Eric Anderson and Jan Sheldrick).

The occasion -- supposedly -- is a 1959 TV Christmas special that Garland is hosting by way of making another comeback. It's a grand idea, filled with slyly amusing possibilities, many of which writers James Webber and David Church and composer Joe Patrick Ward fully exploit.

The interesting thing to note about these particular celebrities is that their private lives were often a mess and/or they had a secret or devious side at odds with their public image. Act 1 gives us the sunny side of their personas as Judy greets them one by one on camera, and everyone is up to their eyebrows (Nixon's and Crawford's eyebrows together could carpet a small room) in synthetic holiday cheer and familiar showbiz cliches.

Act 2 takes a sharp turn into the twilight zone when Death (Mark A. Cross) crashes the party. It turns out that nothing is really as it seemed to be, least of all Judy herself, and everyone onstage is badly in need of redemption. There's a touch of "A Christmas Carol" and "It's a Wonderful Life" in the proceedings, not to mention an angel in a sailor suit (Dustin Strong) who may have wandered in from "Angels in America."

Act 2 is a gamble that only partly pays off. The writers haven't quite figured out how to say something meaningful about these characters without losing some of the buoyancy and wicked playfulness of Act 1. A song or two before the splendid finale might help. In fact, Death could use a number to call his own.

Kay Cole has staged the show in top-notch fashion, and every cast member makes a valuable contribution. Ward's original songs serve the material perfectly, with Champagne's "Angel Star" and "Make It Shine" both knockouts in the Garland manner. A special nod to the Nixon-Hellman duet that contains the clever refrain, "Are you now or have you ever been ... in love?"

 


JUDY'S SCARY LITTLE CHRISTMAS

Presented by JSLC

 

Credits:

Writers: James Webber, David Church

Music and lyrics: Joe Patrick Ward

Director/choreographer: Kay Cole

Set and lighting designer: James Webber

Costume designer: Jeannine Campi

Judy's gowns: Ricky Gilbert

Musical director: Joe Patrick Ward

Accompanist: Brent Crayon

Producers: James Webber, David Church, Joe Patrick Ward

 

Cast:

Judy Garland: Connie Champagne

Bing Crosby: Sean Smith

Ethel Merman: Lauri Johnson

Richard Nixon: Eric Anderson

Lillian Hellman: Jan Sheldrick

Joan Crawford: Joanne O'Brien

Liberace: Don Lucas

Death: Mark A. Cross

Sailor: Dustin Strong

Ensemble: Allen Everman II, Heather Holland, Terri Homberg-Olsen, Jonathan Neeley

 

Copyright 2005, 2012  James Webber, David Church & Joe Patrick Ward