I am ashamed to admit I had never seen Hanna Nixon as Judy Garland before, as she has portrayed the icon of stage and screen on a few occasions on the Island: this show was in support of Bembridge Little Theatre Club whose home is Bembridge Village Hall, the venue for this musical evening.
My first surprise of the night was when Hanna – sorry, Judy – walked onstage. I have worked with and am familiar with Hanna – and yet the lady who appeared in front of me bore no relationship to the person I know. She genuinely was Judy Garland. Partly due to the clever costume, makeup and wig – but mainly due to the ability of the actress behind her to just become Judy. Her speech, gestures, facial expressions – I have no idea how long it takes studying such a star to capture her essence so perfectly, but I know it also takes vast acting talent.
And that’s without commenting on the singing voice. Again, I had the pleasure of hearing Hanna sing in Nunsense last year and know she has a wonderful voice – but this wasn’t Hanna’s voice. During the interval one of the audience remarked to me: ‘She sings beautifully, but I’ve never heard Judy Garland sing, so I don’t know what she sounded like’. Before I could answer, someone replied: ‘She sounded…like that.’ I couldn’t have put it better myself. I truly felt I was in the presence of Judy. If there is an afterlife, and Judy herself could hear the concert, I’m betting she would be clapping louder than anyone in the audience.
Which is saying something – from the first note to the final encore, there was rapturous applause and cheers. Not only were we treated to Judy’s best loved songs, there were anecdotes told by Judy about her life: some poignant, many hilarious, told with the aplomb for which she was known. My personal favourite was the time, just after she’d had given birth, when a film crew turned up at the hospital and set up cameras, lights and so on because she had been nominated for an Academy Award. As she prepared for her big moment, the presenter on screen announced she had not won – cue immediate disappearance of film crew and cameras. The final comment – I got to take my baby home and that was better than any award – reminded us of what we all often forget: a celebrity is still a human being.
A mention also needs to be made of Roger Holmes whose skills at the piano provided the perfect accompaniment to the songs, whether big show-stoppers, gentle ballads, raucous singalongs or duets with only one singer. You had to be there!
There was the odd nod to ‘reality’ (whatever that is!) as Noel Coward made more than one appearance in the tales told, and Judy commented that ‘I believe one of his plays is going to be staged here soon’, referring to the upcoming production of ‘Blithe Spirit’ by BLTC in May. Though, Judy told us, the play involves ghosts, and she didn’t personally see why anyone would want to watch a dead woman for two hours…..
Of course, Hanna knows about ‘Blithe Spirit’ since she is in the cast, so if you missed her as Judy, you do get to see her next month: yes, playing another dead woman. In September, she also puts her delightful voice to good use as Mabel in ‘Pirates of Penzance’ staged by GASP, again at Bembridge Village Hall. Do look out for both shows – and do look out for Hanna performing as Judy Garland again. If like me you have missed seeing her one woman show so far – do yourself a favour and book tickets the next time there’s an opportunity. Whether you are a fan of Garland herself or not, you’ll be in for a wonderful evening of song and entertainment.