And this show, written and conceived by Liverpool’s own Emma Dears, is a good idea, lovingly portrayed, but at this early stage – and it’s a very early stage – there’s still improvements that could be made to for Judy & Liza to really reach its potential. The show is told as if one long live concert, in the style of the ones fans know and love, beginning with their joint 1964 gig, before going back to tell the story of Judy Garland’s rise to fame (first act), then the birth and ascendance of Liza (second act).
As Liza, West End-seasoned Dears is just outstanding. Her accent was uncanny, capturing the unique intonation of the singer’s voice in speech and in song, and as such was quite enthralling. And although the big numbers you’d expect are all there – Liza With a Z, Cabaret, etc – it’s the heartbreaking love song Sorry I Asked, from Minnelli’s Live from Radio City Music Hall in 1992, that really showed Dears has a true power to move an audience.
Lucy Williamson as Judy did seem to take longer to get into character as the troubled MGM legend, but once she did gave a powerful performance. She also had to cope with some sound and technical problems that she handled well.
I don’t think the venue – the lecture/ concert hall in Hope University – helped matters. Without a raised stage, it was more like watching some kind of after dinner floor show. And there just didn’t seem the space in the room for the energy these wonderful songs created. Something just wasn’t elevating this show to greater heights.
Each half had a segment that heavily relied on each of the two singers’ biggest screen successes, The Wizard of Oz and Cabaret. This was conveyed by the band playing a medley of each score while movie stills filled the space above their heads. The singers left the stage and it lead to a lull that would probably have been better filled with a few Fosse-esque dancers, or something – anything. Instead what should have been arguably the peak of each act was instead something more akin to interval background music.
The show ended with the pair side by side, recreating a performance of Lost Souls with the two dressed as old-style American bums, complete with dusty tuxes, stubble, and blacked-out front teeth. It was a fantastic number, very well performed. How to completely finish the show, however, seems to have been a conundrum. Perhaps in order to illustrate the equality of their achievements, on one side of the stage Williamson reprised Over the Rainbow, while on the other Dears sang Maybe This Time over it. The duo were still dressed as tramps (perhaps not going out on the glamorous high they deserve), the sound was mushy and this little experiment, although kind of understandable, didn’t much work.
There are more performances of this show throughout November and as said at the beginning, there is lots of potential for this show. The ingredients are there, and it would be good to see Judy & Liza become more than just one for the fans.