Kindred Spirits presents: The Judy Garland Christmas Show

Judy Garland Christmas ShowThere’s kitsch. There’s camp. Then there’s the Judy Garland Christmas Show, perhaps the single most absurdly divine thing to ever be produced by the 1960′s television industry. Kindred Spirits presents its 4th Annual Judy Garland Christmas Show & Sing-Along December 4th at Meteor (2306 Genesee St) at 5 pm.

In 1963 Garland found herself in trouble with the IRS for forgetting to pay taxes for a couple of years. Desperate for cash, she agreed to star in a weekly variety show for CBS, then proceeded to record 26 of the most gin-soaked hours in television history. Garland was remarkably cogent for the Christmas episode however, perhaps because her children were all on set as guest stars. Lorna Luft, Joey Luft and (almost unrecognizable with long hair) Liza Minnelli join fellow guests Jack Jones, Tracy Everitt, Mel Tormé and the true stars of the show, the chorus line of dancing Santas, for an hour of surreal delight.

With Nancy Ford emceeing, the Judy Garland Christmas Show & Sing-Along has become a Houston holiday tradition. In addition to the show and complimentary eats there’s also a raffle for a flat screen television. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door and can be purchased at kindredspiritshouston.org. Proceeds benefit AssistHers, the Lesbian Health Initiative Houston, and Expert Nutrition.

After the break watch the opening number from the Judy Garland Christmas Show.

—  admin

Spend ‘An Evening With Judy Garland’ tonight in Irving — or Liza in Dallas

Scheduling conflict for days

All right Friends of Dorothy, Liza performs her last show tonight at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at the Meyerson, but before you head out, did you know about this show? While Liza’s “New York”-ing it in Dallas, the Irving Symphony Orchestra presents “An Evening with Judy Garland” with guest conductor and former Liza musical director Michael Berkowitz. Maybe this will help you decide. Either way, you’ll catch a true diva in action. Tony Award winner Debbie Gravitte takes on Judy in her show, so any decision you make is a win-win.

DEETS: Liza Minnelli with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. 8 p.m. $45–$122. DallasSymphony.com. An Evening With Judy Garland at the Irving Arts Center, 3333 N. MacArthur Blvd., Irving. Oct 9 at 8 pm. $19–$54. IrvingArtsCenter.com.

—  Rich Lopez

SHOW VS. SHOW • Mother & child reunion

On the same weekend, Dallas gets Liza Minnelli at the DSO and Debbie Gravitte in a Judy Garland  tribute

Call it serendipity, but when Liza Minnelli stops by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra the same weekend as Irving Arts Center’s tribute to Judy Garland, we have to shed a tear. In a very special installment of Show vs. Show, we couldn’t resist pitting “mother” against daughter.

Minnelli is an icon in so many ways. Whether she’s a movie legend based on her Oscar-winning star turn as Sally Bowles in 1972’s Cabaret or as a drag queen go-to with that signature short hair and adorable warbly voice, Minnelli is literally the stuff of legends — hardly the case with many of today’s stars.

But she’s also Liza. As in the woman who keeps marrying the non-marrying kind (translation: gay) or the lady who always seems a bit on the nutty end of the ice cream bar, We wonder, “What is up with her?” And we love her just for that.

An Evening With Judy Garland showcases Debbie Gravitte singing signature Garland tunes on the anniversary of Judy’s famous Carnegie Hall show. Don’t expect a Rufus Wainwright type recreation: Gravitte and music director Michael Berkowitz inject their own personalties into the show (see sidebar).

Will Liza’s legendary status trump the weekend, or will Gravitte knock this show out of the park? Choices, choices…

………………….

LizaLiza

…. is a true diva with an Oscar, Tony and an Emmy to her name.

…. married some friends of Dorothy.

…. embarrassingly performed Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” on the Sex and the City 2 soundtrack — which we hope she doesn’t do at this show.

…. was on Larry King recently, expressing sympathy and empathy for Lindsay Lohan’s drug use and alcoholism.

…. had her solo Broadway show, Liza’s At the Palace…!, replacing the musical Legally Blonde.

…. had a small comeback in 1989 by going in a  different musical direction with her album Results, produced by the Pet Shop Boys.

…. hocked her velvet jumpsuits on Home Shopping Network.

…. has embraced her gay icon status, even performing at Pride in Paris last  year.

…. performs with Dallas Symphony Orchestra at the Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. Oct 8 and 9 at 8 p.m. $45–$122. DallasSymphony.com.

……………………………..

Judy (aka Debbie)Judy (aka Debbie)

…. got a miniature Oscar for her role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz — ouch. (Gravitte has her own Tony, though, for Jerome Robbins’ Broadway).

…. Was Dorothy. And she married some friends of Dorothy. Apparently a genetic trait.

…. embarrassingly messed up some of the words in her famous Carnegie Hall appearance. Still, “Single Ladies” trumps that.

…. was the Lindsay Lohan of her day. Minus the paparazzi.

…. had her Carnegie show recreated detail for detail by gay singer Rufus Wainwright.

…. had several comebacks including Oscar-nominated performances in A Star is Born and Judgment at Nuremberg

…. had a better idea with that red velvet gown from Meet Me in St. Louis.

…. embraced gay men as husbands but responded to a reporter about her iconic status, “I couldn’t care less. I sing to people.”  Umm, we guess that’s cool.

…. isn’t portrayed by Debbie Gravitte as much as she is celebrated, which Gravitte discusses further below.

— Rich Lopez

……………………………..

Recreating a legend

Michael BerkowitzDebbie Gravitte just found out that her show where she performs Judy Garland songs is the same weekend Liza Minnelli comes to Dallas. The scheduling conflict for friends of Dorothy could have massive repercussions, but it is an easy (and obvious fix).

“There is a perfect way to work it out,” Gravitte says. “See her on Friday and see me on Saturday.”

Gravitte teams up with former Minnelli music director Michael Berkowitz, pictured, for An Evening With Judy Garland at the Irving Arts Center Saturday. The solo show commemorates Garland’s iconic Carnegie Hall concert exactly 50 years ago. But Gravitte assures that she is not doing a Judy impersonation.

“This is a tribute, a celebration of this one incredible night of her life,” she says. “I don’t look anything like her and maybe I sound like her a tiny bit, but it’s not like we are recreating Judy. We want to channel that joyful part of her instead of recalling the tragic.”

With a full orchestra behind her, Gravitte would even venture to say this is more of a concert than a show; Berkowitz agrees. His closeness to Garland’s material is far beyond just his work with Minnelli.

“I was always a fan. I was a friend of Bill LaVorgna, Liza’s drummer before me. Bill and I knew each other for 40 years. I first heard his playing on the Garland Carnegie Hall recording. That alone was worth it to me.”

As for the dueling shows, Berkowitz thinks anyone who gets out to either comes out ahead.

“I didn’t know Liza May was in town this weekend as well,” he says. “It’s going to be a double header of great music and entertainment.”

Gravitte knows the gays are gonna hold her to task, but she’s not daunted. In fact, she even challenges her audience a bit.

“I welcome everyone to come dressed in their best Judy,” she says. “We are gonna do a sing along and I want people to sing every fucking line!”

— Rich Lopez

Irving Arts Center, 3333 N. MacArthur
Blvd., Irving. Oct 9 at 8 p.m. $19–$54.
IrvingArtsCenter.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 8, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

What has he done to deserve this?

Music director Adam Wright glams Uptown Players’ Pet Shop Boys musical

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

WEST END GAYS | ‘Closer to Heaven’ explores the dark world of gay ’80s  London through the music of the Pet Shop Boys.  (Photo courtesy  Mike Morgan)
WEST END GAYS | ‘Closer to Heaven’ explores the dark world of gay ’80s London through the music of the Pet Shop Boys. (Photo courtesy Mike Morgan)

CLOSER TO HEAVEN
Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.
Oct. 1–24. $30–$40.
UptownPlayers.org

………………………………………..

Mention the Pet Shop Boys and what comes to mind is techno-pop — hardly the stuff of musical theater. But when Uptown Players opens Closer To Heaven Friday, that mindset will change. The company is producing the sole stage venture by the band, which comes with the same tone as their albums. And that means the production’s musical director, Adam Wright — whose background is in classical and jazz music — is doing some major gear-shifting.

“We had to reconstruct a lot of the music,” he says. “The music that was sent with the materials had just two parts and not a lot to go off of.”

His job might have gone easier if Wright were in communication with the Pet Shop Boys … or if he was already a fan.

“The extent of my communication with them was through their Twitter updates,” he says. “I’d love to learn more about how they program and write. I wasn’t as much a fan as some of the people in the cast. My parents did buy me the Liza Minnelli album Results they produced. I’m certainly more of a fan now after working on this.”

The subject of the musical is perhaps more relatable to Wright. Set in gay London in the 1980s, it’s a dark show with racy queer content he can appreciate. But the task of turning that vibe into a musical theater idiom was a challenge.

Wright had only the original London cast recording to work from, which is dominated by the Pet Shop Boys electronica sound, which he orchestrated for a six-man band to offer a live concert experience. His priority, however, was staying true to the songs PSB wrote.

“With electric drums and two keyboards, we can mimic some of that techno sound,” he says. “There are some guitar moments. It’s really intricate programming and having the band makes it easier and way less complicated.”

His musicians will not only recreate the dance beats, but also meld them in accord with choreography and plot — and PSB’s signature style.

“There is a lot more going on in the songs than you think, so it was pretty daunting,” he says. “Normally with a live band, embellishments are added, but we had to stick to the appropriate style. Even the minimal songs have a repetitive, dance-y nature.”

All that required a close collaboration between Wright, director Bruce Coleman and choreographer John de los Santos. Wright especially sympathized with the challenge de los Santos faced of balancing fluid and narrative movement against Wright’s job to keep the proper but continuous beat of the music — and to primarily keep the audience interested.

“There have been ups and downs in this creative process,” he says. “I’ve certainly felt overwhelmed, but I enjoy the challenge doing new things. That motivates me even if I have to pace in a circle for an hour until it comes to me.”

With weeks of preparation and arranging, Wright’s work still hadn’t clicked with him until Uptown began running the full show in rehearsals. After seeing it as one cohesive piece, he settled and relieved some of his stress going in.

“At that point, it felt possible and easy,” he says. Now he’s more concerned if the audience will be fans: Many out-of-towners are flying in especially for the show, which makes its North American debut — but Uptown knows this is difficult material. The litmus test will be opening night.

“I know some expect a certain kind of music in theater, but the nice thing is the show starts with a bang and they’ll know right away what they are in for. “

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 1, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Crazy with a Z: Liza on the Home Shopping Network

I have to say, I never — and I mean never — have watched the Home Shopping Network or QVC; even infomercials rarely keep me tuned more than 30 seconds. But our friend Jack E. Jett — who I have a story about in Friday’s print edition — sent me a link to this video of Liza Minnelli appearing recently on HSN. When you hear how everyone gushes over her, you realize that would probably make you nutz with a Z after a few years. Enjoy the train wreck that is Judy’z daughter:

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Concert notice: Liza Minnelli comes to the Meyerson in October

Is this early enough notice for you Minnelli fans? Liza hits the road this summer and slowly makes her way to play the Meyerson October 8 and 9. So Dallas gets a double dose of the non-diva diva.

Personally, I hope she plays the heck out of her Pet Shop Boys-produced Results album. That CD is still amazing 21 years later. Her quirky image was even retooled for the videos into a more sultry look as you can see in the video above for “So Sorry, I Said.”

Ah, those were the days.

—  Rich Lopez