Jim Bailey as Judy Garland
David Shepherd & Brian Daniels for D&B Productions
Leicester Square Theatre
Judy Garland, a self proclaimed legend, the original diva. There is only one Judy Garland; or is there? Those that have seen Jim Bailey over the last five decades in which he has been paying tribute to Ms Garland may disagree.
I wouldn't have believed it without seeing it for myself. How can anyone become Judy Garland, let alone a man, and yet sure enough, no more than one song into this performance you are no longer seeing a man in drag but Judy Garland herself. Bailey is not just a one trick pony either: in fact he portrays many great stars - Barbara Streisand, Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Mae West to name but a few. However for now, whilst in London for this limited run, he is paying tribute to that girl who just wanted to fly over the rainbow.
With The Wizard of Oz on TV every Christmas and Easter Parade every Easter, it's hard to believe that it's actually forty years since Judy Garland died. This year she would have been 87 years old and whilst sadly she can't be with us, Jim Bailey really is the next best thing. From the moment he sets foot on that stage with the erratic, nervous energy that Garland was known for, you are transported back to the days of her performances at the London Palladium. He kicks off his uncomfortable shoes, struggles with the stool on stage and anxiously tugs at his hair.
Garland wasn't perfect, she wasn't always the polished performer and this is what made her so popular with the audience, despite her many career set backs. She exposed her flaws for the entire world to see and Bailey captures this perfectly. Of course what she was most famous for was her voice; that rich, vibrant, husky sound, filled with heart ache. Again, apart from the odd crack (and lets face it, if Judy Garland was still around today she'd have the odd crack too) it's as if Garland is up on that stage as he belts out classics such as "Get Happy", "Zing Went My Heart Strings", "The Man That Got Away" and of course "Somewhere over the Rainbow".
The night's music is punctuated by conversation as Bailey talks effortlessly with the audience, telling stories, having the occasional bitch and going off on random tangents as he forgets what he is talking about (a quality Liza Minnelli has inherited from her mother). The slightly slurred speech and breathless quality to his voice is spot on in his camp but honest portrayal of this fabulous woman.
You don't have to be an expert on Judy Garland to marvel at this astonishing act, a simple appreciation for the stars of yesteryear will suffice. For the majority of us who never had the chance to see Garland herself when she was last in London, this is a great opportunity to see her songs performed the way she would have performed them.
Liza Minnelli once said to Bailey that if he stopped performing Judy Garland, how would she ever see her mother again? If it's good enough for her then it's most definitely good enough for us.
Reviewer: Rachel Sheridan