musical direction by
Christopher Denny and David Maiocco
If Tommy Femia doesn’t exactly bear the closest resemblance to singing legend Judy Garland, there’s still a little piece of her boozy, fun-loving spirit to be found in his doting cabaret act, entitled Judy Garland Live, now playing Saturday nights at Don’t Tell Mama, a sizable piano bar on West 46th Street, just a few blocks away from the Palace Theatre in Times Square, the site of one of Judy’s biggest comebacks.
If this cabaret act – now in its twentieth season – is somewhat less an event, it’s still a thrill to hear Femia’s renditions of the old Garland standards, which, at the press preview on 21 September, included The Trolley Song, The Man That Got Away, San Francisco, Rock-A-Bye, and Over The Rainbow.
Also featured were lesser-known songs, like I’ll Plant My Own Tree (from the film Valley of the Dolls), as well as a cover of Judy’s daughter Liza Minnelli’s signature tune New York, New York.
In her own time, Judy Garland bridged the gap between crooners and the era of the Beatles, topping the charts with her Judy at Carnegie Hall album in a time when rock ‘n’ roll had already taken over amongst the masses. Now, Garland’s style – as continued by Femia – feels like a far-off relic, a credit not so much to his campy style but to changing musical tastes.
It’s clever of Femia to attempt to update the Judy persona for a post-Judy age, covering songs she wasn’t even alive to hear. But if imitation is a form of flattery, it also serves to highlight the greatness of the copied individual more so than the talent of the performer at hand, and such is the case with Judy Garland Live! despite Mr. Femia’s most amiable attempts at a loving recreation of Garland’s tunes.
Femia nails the patter – he’s got Judy’s phrasing down to a T, including her signature stammer – as well as her boozy, lilting singing voice, which is a few octaves below Judy’s but nevertheless impressive. And clocking in at about sixteen songs in 90 minutes, there’s plenty of fun to be had spending a night in the palm of Femia’s hand, despite the inescapable, heartbreaking fact that he can never truly resurrect the dead.
For those eager to recall old memories of Judy Garland or have a laugh at Lorna Luft’s expense, Femia’s show is a trip down memory lane, for sure, but whether it’s worth partaking in depends on one’s capacity for Femia’s brand of imitation, which burns bright but can’t quite live up to the panache of the original diva.