“The Jazzy Side of Judy Garland”
Feinstein’s at Loews Regency – July 31 – August 11
This is not your grandmother’s Judy Garland. Nor is it intended to be. Rebecca Kilgore, in splendid voice, has created an effective and original take on a largely very familiar songbook for her current show at Feinstein’s. As she notes near the beginning of her hour-long set, “I’m not sure Judy technically ever sang jazz.” Not to worry. Kilgore, ably abetted by the Harry Allen Quartet, is jazzy enough for both of them.
Her opening number, “The Sweetest Sounds” (Richard Rodgers, from No Strings), has been jazzed up before, of course, and the only connection this Broadway tune has to Garland is that she sang it on her television show in 1963. Apart from one other worthy TV show-borrowing, “I Like Men,” which Judy sang as a duet with Peggy Lee (who co-wrote the song with Jack Marshall), the remainder of Kilgore’s show is firmly connected to Judy Garland, in movies and onstage, with songs both overly familiar and obscure.
“Dear Mr. Gable (You Made Me Love You),” Joseph McCarthy and James V. Monaco’s 1913 song, to which, in 1937, Roger Edens added special lyrics for Judy to sing for Clark’s birthday celebration, kicked off the better-known portion of the evening. Two Hugh Martin/Ralph Blane selections from Meet Me in St. Louis, “The Boy Next Door” and “The Trolley Song,” firmly established the evening’s source material, leaving—nay, encouraging—Kilgore and her four equally committed cohorts to have their way with it. Harry Allen’s tenor saxophone solo on “The Boy Next Door” all by itself spoke volumes about love from so-near and yet afar. The nifty Edens, Blaine and Martin collaboration “The Joint is Really Jumpin’ at Carnegie Hall” was followed later by an Edens solo venue song, “Until You’ve Played the Palace,” with Kilgore substituting “at Feinstein’s” for “the Palace.” In between the two songs, came, among other numbers, “Friendly Star” (Harry Warren, Mack Gordon, from Summer Stock), which Kilgore rightfully and beautifully revived into the Garland canon.
Kilgore was sensible enough not to sing Judy’s singular identifier, “Over the Rainbow,” which she literally left to the Harry Allen quartet as she departed the stage for a ten-minute break. Rossano Sportiello’s piano shimmered on a mellow rendition of that Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg standard from The Wizard of Oz, after which the foursome tore into a seemingly double-tempo “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead,” the Munchkins’ vocal celebration from the same movie. Bassist Joel Forbes and drummer Chuck Riggs had particular fun with that one.
After returning to the stage, Kilgore didn’t shy away from tackling Garland’s second-best-known number, “The Man That Got Away” (Harold Arlen, Ira Gershwin, from A Star is Born). This song seemed the least able to be jazzed up in the set I saw, and at times Kilgore sang it pretty much the same way Garland had.
This is a new act for Kilgore, and by the end of the run she may have her patter down pat. But on the second night of this engagement she was still peeking at her notes and wondering out loud, “How old was Judy when she sang this?” As if that mattered in this context. It was far more fascinating to hear the backstory of “Jitterbug,” a gleefully frantic number that was cut from The Wizard of Oz, after being filmed at great expense, and was sung and played here mid-set with great brio. A few more such behind-the-scenes anecdotes, preferably memorized, would not go amiss.
Kilgore has eight additional selections on her song list that she may substitute in other performances. Whichever ones she chooses on a given night, you’re in for a treat.
About the Author
Robert Windeler is the author of 18 books, including biographies of Mary Pickford, Julie Andrews, Shirley Temple, and Burt Lancaster. As a West Coast correspondent for The New York Times and Time magazine, he covered movies, television and music, and he was an arts and entertainment critic for National Public Radio. He has contributed to a variety of other publications, including TV Guide, Architectural Digest, The Sondheim Review, and People, for which he wrote 35 cover stories. He is a graduate of Duke University in English literature and holds a masters in journalism from Columbia, where he studied critical writing with Judith Crist. He has been a theatre critic for Back Stage since 1999, writes reviews for BistroAwards.com, and is a member of The Players and the American Theatre Critics Association.