Typhoon Judy a Tempest on Roxy Stage (Edmonton Journal)
Make sure you get your tickets soon for “Typhoon Judy” at the Waterfront Playhouse (April 5-13, 2013) — this show is sure to sell-out.
Here’s what Liz Nicholls said about the show in the Edmonton Journal:
“Don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky. …”
To the strains of Stormy Weather, a woman is blown onto a dark stage by a tempest. She’s a figure born in another theatrical tempest — the storm that blew Dorothy clean out of Kansas, and a child star in a gingham pinafore into the bizarre, ageless “America’s sweetheart” wonderland where you take pills to wake up and pills to go to sleep.
Judy Garland was a veritable shipwreck of a woman by the time of Typhoon Viola, the real-life 1969 storm that cancelled a Hong Kong Garland concert after a meltdown disaster in Melbourne. And the play by Darrin Hagen and Christopher Peterson that opens the Theatre Network season is set at the moment, literally between the Now and the Great Beyond, when Judy Garland had been declared dead of an overdose, and when she awoke from her drug-induced slumbers and was redeclared alive.
Our tempest-toss’d legend — and her silent white angel who sits at a grand piano and plays anything she throws at him — finds her light again, and her audience. You’re not in Kansas, Judy. You’re not dead, Judy. You’re in Edmonton, delivering a zinger about eating more Alberta beef. Hmmm.
In one way, Typhoon Judy is an oddball choice for a theatre with a long and distinguished history telling Canadian stories onstage. In another, though, Edmonton’s a town where drag has been reinvented, thanks to Guys in Disguise, a drag troupe that became a theatre company.
In any case, stage vehicles for stars can scarcely ever have had more artful, metaphorically enhanced fuel than Typhoon Judy, which gives its premise a workout of strenuous, slightly exhausting vigour (and length), with the odd wink. And since director Hagen is also a sound designer of note, you have the fun of witty cues like “the answer is blown in the wind,” which floats through the theatre pre-show.
There are points here about the cruel trap of the star persona, and the exploitive heart of celebrity, not to mention the way show biz is an American corporate possession. And you may find the whole journey a little protracted, depending on your attachment to the subject. But what the vehicle is there to do, in the end, is carry a performance of fabulous virtuosity — the word, I think, is fabulosity — from Christopher Peterson. Nicolas Samoil as Garland’s enigmatic angel cum accompanist is a sympathetic stage companion in every way.
Garland is, always was, one of the world’s most impersonated figures, in her every mannerism and posture, by male and female performer alike. The twitchy, drug-addled, imperious Garland persona itself is in the drag repertoire handbook, under “required.” And that’s before we even get to the musical identity, with its signature edges and swooping vibrato. It’s not unfamiliar territory, in truth. And familiarity is partly the point, and the fun, of drag. But what the uncannily gifted Peterson, who does all his own singing, delivers isn’t really a drag show. It’s a performance by an actor in the role of a woman who, like many drag artists, had a voracious appetite for performing.
Typhoon Judy doesn’t get comic mileage from the fact that a man (nudge-nudge) is playing a woman. It doesn’t even really count as female impersonation, although of course it is. Peterson is playing Garland; there it is. If there’s a ripple to be had in knowing there’s a man under all that girlie sparkle, it comes from theatrical sources: Garland’s heightened, self-conscious quality, a byproduction of her own hyper-awareness that Judy Garland is both person and showbiz creation.
We get the tragic story, in all its well-known details, with the well-known list of husbands and fellow stars, and well-known diva lines like “don’t they know who I am?” Luckily the latter are interspersed with witty new ones, like Garland’s tart observation of her Melbourne debacle: “What do you expect from a British penal colony?” And clichés — “no one comes between me and my kids!” —gain an intriguingly calculated, rancid quality from their placement and over-emphasis.
Peterson’s portrait captures a weird combo of cynicism, tarnished sentimentality and innocence. He conveys powerfully the combination of vulnerability and hauteur that go into the charisma that had audiences clamouring for the little-girl-turned-foul-mouthed woman. And we get songs. These Peterson delivers amazingly, in unexpected biographical contexts, with a powerhouse voice and an uncanny ear for Garland’s juxtaposition of lustrous phrases and husky edges, and big broad tremolos.
In Typhoon Judy, when the star sings I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, it’s to her kids. But it’s really an ode to the audience. Our gain, as it always was.