Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Get Happy!

Written and performed by Debbie Saloman
Hope Theatre Company
King's Head Theatre, London
(2007)

Production photo

Frank Sinatra said of Garland, "The rest of us will be forgotten, never Judy." And watching Debbie Saloman's performance in Get Happy! I was reminded of what an extraordinary person Garland was and why she will be remembered as Sinatra predicted.

It is not only Saloman's uncanny ability to imitate Judy Garland's singing voice but also her portrayal of Garland at one of the cross-roads of her life that makes Saloman's performance convincing and at times moving.

Debbie Saloman conceived a twenty-minute show which formed part of her performing arts degree course, but under the tutelage of one of her lecturers (Adam Zane, who directs her here), she developed it and it is now a full length show, which is making a return visit to Islington's King's Head Theatre after a sell-out week-long run there in the Spring.

Get Happy! certainly deserves this reprise.

Although the structure of the show and some of the monologue could benefit from some refinement, these comments need to be seen in the context that Debbie Saloman is only 23 years old and clearly has a huge talent as a performer, supported by considerable skill as a researcher and author.

Get Happy! is set in the early 1960s, the stage between Garland's near-fatal bout of Hepatitis - she half pickled herself to death with vodka and was told she would never sing again - and her triumphant return to the stage which culminated in the famous concert at New York's Carnegie Hall, the recording of which (Judy at Carnegie Hall) received an unprecedented five Grammy Awards.

Saloman made a wise choice in setting her piece during this period because it gives her a lot of episodes from Garland's personal life - by this time she had had three children, she had made a suicide attempt and was divorcing husband number three of five - with which to illustrate the woman behind The Legend. Garland was also presenting a drug-dependent buoyantly defiant face to the world, so Saloman the performer does not have to play out Garland's personal tragedies.

Additionally by the early 60s Garland had made her most well-known films such as A Star Is Born, Easter Parade and Meet Me in St Louis - and, of course, The Wizard of Oz - so Saloman has been able to cherry-pick from plenty of anecdotes about events on set and use them to cue the best-known songs from a career that had already spanned 36 years.

Debbie Saloman has chosen the range of songs well to match her immense vocal skill and to ensure that Garland does not come across solely as the tragic torch song singer. Yes, there was the dolorous 'The Man that Got Away' but it was balanced by a peppy arrangement of 'You Made Me Love You (Dear Mr Gable)' and the fun of 'The Bells Are Ringing' and 'The Trolley Song'.

The inevitable number, and in my opinion over-rated, 'Over The Rainbow' - "the song that followed [her] around like a big black cloud" - was beautifully sung to an enrapt audience and even I almost liked it, but really there was no contest - the irony of 'Stormy Weather' and 'Rain or Shine' and the sheer joy of 'Chicago' placed these well ahead of the nauseous rainbow on my list of highlights.

Saloman's passing resemblance to Garland and her ability to capture her laugh and mannerisms make for a convincing performance, and her powerful renditions of the Garland classics earned her a big gay following locally when she first performed Get Happy! in Manchester. It is possible that this longer run of Get Happy! at the King's Head Theatre may additionally give her the recognition that she also deserves from a wider audience.

Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm with Sunday performances on the 12th and 26th August 2007 at 3.30pm. Ticket prices £15/£18 (£10/£12 concessions) to 26th August 2007

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti