Screenings from the Paley Center for Media Collection
Judy Garland: The Television Years
July 27, 2011 [festival runs July 20-August 18, 2011]
25 West 52nd Street
event web site: http://www.paleycenter.org/judy-garland-the-television-years
[Today I spend the late morning into and through the first 45 minutes or so of the screening traveling to and from the Bronx to provide dramaturgical notes and to work with a playwright colleague on a new play. I enter the screening in a second floor screening room after a quick walk from Grand Central in the high heat, midway through The Judy Garland Show CBS series, episode 1 featuring Mickey Rooney. As with all the materials to be shown during the television and film screenings over the course of these festival screenings, today’s materials are familiar to me but the promise of the shared large-format experience with exquisite sound and image provide enough independent interest to draw me in. This particular day, one tune I am present to experience has a reprise later in my evening in an entirely different context. A tune written for Garland for a movie from which she was released, performed by her on today’s screened episode of her television show, has been newly incorporated into an old musical once filmed by her ex-husband Vincente Minnelli that I hear this evening in a staged reading. But wait, we’ll get to that … first Garland.]
Wednesday July 27. I speed in, late to today’s party at the Paley, as I suspected I might be. I have just concluded some hours discussing a play about 1950s high school life choices and the power of theatre by a colleague, and have spent some people watching time on the #6 subway line. I figure that even a few moments with Judy Garland and her guests will be of value. And she does not disappoint.
My Paley Center front desk friend and I engage in our now familiar routine of the silent nod of heads, smiles, and ticket transfer. I take the elevator to the second floor, enter the screening room at the end of the hall to the right, film already in process, familiar silhouettes seated in familiar locations (some of us prefer rows right up front and center, some off to the sides, some appear to prefer to be closest to the door in the back for quick exits). Mickey Rooney is singing “All I Need Now Is The Girl” from Gypsy, which quickly segues into a duet between Judy and Mickey with some choral cavorting extolling their history in the movies. I have always adored the playful and very attractive black flouncing dress Judy wears for this sequence, her expert kicking off of her shoes before dancing around with her familiar co-star (and she is still taller than Mr. Rooney, sans shoes), and their apparent glee and comfort in each other’s company.
The two old friends and performance pros banter about their long relationship (he: “We were never together together.” she: “You were always too busy for me.”) and perform a delightful skit that pulls from just about every “let’s put on a show” and Andy Hardy scene they ever played together, interspersed with snippets of song and choreography — ranging from “How About You” and “But Not For Me” and “Could You Use Me” from Girl Crazy to “Our Love Affair” from Strike Up The Band. Cheesy but delightful, and doubly so projected large.
The real enticement me for me to make my way to the Paley Center from my meeting in the Bronx this hot July day is the final Judy solo “trunk spot” for this episode. I know this series episode is screening last this day and if the trains didn’t fail me, I know the set list, the sequence of songs, the magic that awaits. The trains get me there, the air conditioning is cool, the new familiar faces in the screening room similar rapt around me, we watch Garland in her moment, in her splendor, in full command of her art, presenting three songs in sequence. Act One is “Too Late Now” written for her in Royal Wedding (a role that goes to Jane Powell in the end) — a song about chances missed, history experienced, somber reflection, in a mesmerizing minor key. Act Two is the upbeat “Who Cares?” most of the country has grown to know from the Carnegie Hall recording released two years before she presents this tune here — a tune of amused defiance and belief in love “as long as I care for you, and you … care .. .you … care .. baby .. for me.” And Act Three is a new arrangement for Garland that blows the lid off the joint — her towering new you-hardly-believe-she-goes-there belting and believing version of “Old Man River” from Show Boat.
As usual, I process the experience for a time afterwards, and chat at length with several new acquaintances with long and deep Garland fan histories. I have time to journey home for a quick change, and then to travel downtown to the Vineyard Theatre for a developmental lab / workshop performance of a newly calibrated version of On A Clear Day You Can See Forever that quite simply knocks my socks off. Sure, there is a new tune or here or there that leaves me cold. But the newly conceptualized and tweaked book provides new possibilities — still involves a chain-smoking student and a psychology professor, but the student is now a male who is dealing with committing to his male lover, and the past life character the student reveals in hypnosis with the Doctor is a female jazz singer. So many plot possibilities. And what draws the line between my Garland immersion and this evolving work is a Burton Lane / Alan Jay Lerner tune from 1951’s Royal Wedding (written for Garland, introduced by Jane Powell) that has made its way into this new version of 1965’s On A Clear Day — “Too Late Now”. A masterful decision on the part of the creative team, a powerhouse series of sequences in the musical, a gasp-worthy moment for this Garland fan handed this present at the end of a full day. I have great hopes for this new version of a splendid score.
And now. Miss Garland. About whom it is not — not now, not ever — too late.
© Martha Wade Steketee (July 30, 2011)