Despite taking place in the decidedly hellish environment that is Islington’s King’s Head on a muggy London evening, Get Happy! does exactly what it says on the tin, well the playbill, but you get my meaning.
Having become bruisingly entangled in spiteful seating arrangements that can only have been designed by madmen, I ended up perched on a dining chair with my feet very nearly onstage. Leaning against a wall painted the colour of oxblood, and trying hard not to sweat in the air-less pub theatre atmosphere, by the time the lights dimmed I was in such a sensational bad temper that I was more or less willing the production to be a shambles.
It was not. Debbie Saloman’s one woman (and two musician) show, in which she plays Judy Garland, radiates an infectious (and charmingly inebriated) joie de vivre.
Under the premise of rehearsing for a show at the London Palladium, she totters onstage in a mink coat, confiding in the audience about her encounters with the press, unsatisfactory love affairs, and struggles with her weight.
Saloman’s performance is not an impression so much as an homage, though she impersonates Garland’s husky speaking voice well enough. Joined by an unassuming accompanist – who, with apparently effortless skill, is all an accompanist ought to be – Saloman intersperses the familiar songs with a kind of cabaret patter, which though intermittently amusing is not always successful.
The songs, though, are a joy. Displaying an astonishing vocal range, not to say an ear-splitting lung-power more suited to the Palladium itself than the unpleasantly uterine King’s Head, Salomon captures Garland’s ability both to belt out show-stoppers, and sing with a pensive consideration that’s genuinely touching.
Admirably confident onstage, she engaged with her audience, enjoying the appreciatively camp banter of the more vocal members of the audience (“Oooooo, go on, ‘ave a drinkie!”), and coming down from the stage to conduct a sing-a-long of film favourites.
Perhaps the funniest moment was her refusal to give an entire rendition of the loathed Over The Rainbow, instead ‘rehearsing’ the final line or so with exaggerated gestures aimed heavenward.
Get Happy! is unlikely to appeal to those who don’t already have a sneaking fondness for The Trolley Song but for everyone else, it’s a joyful evening, and Saloman deserves her thunderous applause.
That being said, I will not be returning to the King’s Head until either I have wasted to below seven stone, or they have provided seating that is more respectful of the British behind.