Nick, Tony, Richard, and I saw *The Judy Garland Songbook* at Symphony Space on 4/29/19. The concert was alternately called *Broadway’s Leading Ladies: A Love Letter To Judy.* Take your pick. Of course we’re all big Judy Garland fans and I’m rather fond of two of the women on the bill, so why not?
That question was answered pretty quickly. The first performer was Jill Paice singing “I Feel a Song Coming On.” She was wonderful, she had a nice voice and a winning presence. The next singer was Aisha De Haas, doing “I Wish I Were In Love Again,” a song I don’t really know. Turns out she didn’t really know it either. She went up on the words on the second line and asked the music director (the beleaguered Fred Lassen) to start over. She might have gotten a little further the second time, maybe not. She asked him to start it over a third time. This time she accepted that she didn’t know the song, and either hummed the lyrics she didn’t know, or just stood there silent and smiling, or laughed. I’d never seen anything like it.
The first set was rounded off with Emma Stratton singing “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” which she sang in a glacially slow tempo with lots of down time in between whispered phrases. This kind of thing worked well for Peggy Lee, but didn’t quite work for Stratton. And Sarah Stewart Chapin sang “I Don’t Care,” which was kind of a throwaway number, but at least she did it well. The set ended with a special mashup of all four women singing bits of their songs overlapping with each other, an impressive work of assembly. Unfortunately this same trick was repeated later in the program with three other songs, and then it just became tiresome.
The next two singers were the unofficial headliners of the evening, the only two women on the bill I had heard before. Carolee Carmello sang “Who Cares?” Her vibrato has gotten rather loose lately, but it doesn’t hold her back, she knows how to deliver a song, she’s always exciting. She reminded me of what Ethel Merman said about Croatian soprano Zinka Milanov: “She’s like me - - she’s not young, and she knows what the hell she’s doing.”
And then Kate Baldwin, such a lovely singer. She sang “The Boy Next Door” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which were genuinely touching. She also closed the first half with “Over the Rainbow,” which I was happy to hear her sing with the verse (aka the intro). Again, it was touching, moving.
But we had a couple other clunkers before the first half was over. Julia Murney sang “You Go To My Head” and her voice was so darn loud and honking, with that kind of wide open sound that makes my skin crawl. It’s like an assault. Kate Shindle walked out onstage holding a binder, which I think just had the words to her song - - I didn’t see her turn any pages, so it was probably just the words. The song was “Stormy Weather.” I don’t know if you’re familiar with that song, but it’s not terribly complicated or terribly long.
Carmello started the second half with “The Man That Got Away” and totally nailed it. I wish the arrangement had given more of a punch at the end, because she deserved a major round of hollering. She’s a marvel.
Shindle was given maybe my favorite song in the Judy Garland Songbook, “Come Rain or Come Shine,” one of the most exciting arrangements ever made. Unfortunately she had her binder back with her, and clearly this time she had the music and not just the words, because it was tricky for her to hold her microphone, hold her binder, and turn her pages, only having two hands. Did anyone consider giving her a music stand? Or gosh, hiring someone who actually knew the song? The vocal part in this arrangement meanders a little in the middle, and I can understand that it would be tricky - - but she did have the music right in front of her, and yet it didn’t stop her from getting completely lost and stopping singing for about six bars. She looked at the pianist/music director, more or less asked him to throw her a life preserver. Somehow he got her back on track, but those few seconds were harrowing. Saddest of all, she DID know the last bit of the song - - she put the binder down and really delivered the ending, showing us that she’s a good singer with an impressive set of pipes. It’s a shame she didn’t do a better job.
The one pleasant surprise of the night was Rema Webb. I’d never heard of her, and liked her a lot. She had one of the highlights, “Dear Mr. Gable / You Made Me Love You.” It’s a shame to point out the fairly mundane act of memorizing something, but she didn’t just learn the spoken interlude, she performed it with charm and grace. I’ll keep my eye out for her.
Carmello and Baldwin closed the show with the Judy and Barbra duet of “Happy Days Are Here Again” and “Get Happy,” with Carmello as Judy doing “Get Happy” and Baldwin as Barbra doing “Happy Days.” They were simply divine.
Here's Garland herself doing "Come Rain Or Come Shine." It's around 1:30 when Shindle got lost. In my opinion, the most exciting moments of the arrangement happen around 2:20, when the brass and drums drop out to reveal the strings - - it's coursing with energy and tension, love that. Speaking of energy and tension, her ascent to the top of her voice at the end seems to be achieved through sheer nerve.