It is a daunting task to take up the challenge of performing a string of back-to-back Judy Garland hits in the style of, and with the level of strength and passion of, Judy Garland. One does not attend such an event to simply listen to old standards and reminisce. One expects nothing less than to behold the embodiment of Garland herself. But if you are expecting a Las Vegas-style Judy Garland impersonation, this is not it. Instead, Angela Ingersoll’s astounding vocal range, infectious energy, and raw emotional delivery are so naturally similar to that of Judy Garland on her best days, as to render mere imitation a poor substitute for the performance we are witness to.
A bit about Angela Ingersoll: She is an Emmy Award-nominated actor, singer and writer. She stands just 5-feet tall — barely an inch taller than Judy Garland. She has short, thick, dark hair, big, bright eyes, and a fair complexion. Her speaking and singing register approximates that of Judy Garland. Like Garland, she entered show business at a very early age, developed a huge voice within that little body, and by her own admissions even has the same crooked teeth that Garland had. By all rights, she was meant to play this role in life.
GET HAPPY: ANGELA INGERSOLL SINGS JUDY GARLAND embodies not just the voice, but the soul of Judy Garland. This 90-minute revue unfolds with upbeat standards such as “Get Happy“ and “The Trolley Song”. It proceeds, more or less chronologically, through some of the best (i.e., most popular) songs ever sung by Judy Garland. More than just a musical event, GET HAPPY is a biographical show that chronicles Garland’s rise from Vaudevillian obscurity (performing with her older siblings as The Gumm Sisters) to her big break in motion pictures with Mickey Rooney and, of course, the eventual family classic, The Wizard of Oz. Beyond that, we are taken through Garland’s successes and downturns as she gradually loses favor with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and is ultimately fired. Her marriages and divorces, ongoing substance abuse issues, and a chronically low self-image all played a part in Garland’s professional and literal demise, despite the growing library of song renditions that kept her popular with niche fans, especially in the gay community.
All of this is chronicled by Angela Ingersoll, during the course of this heartwarming and heart-wrenching one-woman show. In evoking the image of Judy Garland, Ingersoll captures the full spectrum of emotional range we’ve come accustomed to in a Garland performance. Her mannerisms are spot on, from the fun, over-the-top theatrics to the breathless bits of monologue between numbers. Part way through the performance, Ingersoll casually slips out of her shoes, switches from her tethered microphone to a wireless mic, then meanders over to a portable changing room. She pops her head up above the curtain and proceeds to regale us with stories of Judy’s transition from movie actor to stage performer, while changing out of her dress and into Garland’s signature sequined pants and jacket.
At opportune times, we find out a bit more about Ingersoll as well. We learn of her own struggles and relationships. Some songs she sings for herself, as much as she sings them for us. Indeed, it would be difficult to separate the personal emotional highs and lows that must be evoked by some of these songs: songs like “Smile”, “Stormy Weather” and “As Long As He Needs Me”.
Accompanying Ingersoll is a 6-piece ensemble of piano (Jeremy Kahn), upright bass (Tracy Hadded), percussion (Vance Okraszewski), and a variety of wind instruments (Dave Coolidge, Bill Foy and Paulo Finateri) that rivals the best ensembles of musical theater. The sound quality is superb, outdoor venue notwithstanding. Though located in an open-air art space in downtown Phoenix — actually the grassy courtyard of a church — just yards from a busy road and in a flight path of Sky Harbor International, there are no discernable distractions from the show. If anything, the soft whistle of the light rail train, and the deep tones of the church bell tolling the hour provide an ethereal background to the sometimes somber, always nostalgic, story of Judy Garland.
The Phoenix Theatre Company continues to thumb its artistic nose at COVID-19 through the Company’s ingenious, and altogether successful, program of outdoor staged events. Well-spaced pairs of Adirondack-style chairs, one-way aisles, and a touchless refreshment ordering system keep patrons safely distanced in an outdoor venue.
GET HAPPY: ANGELA INGERSOLL SINGS JUDY GARLAND is presented by the Chicago-based Artists Lounge Live.