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GRAND ILLUSION: JIM AS JUDY by Gerald Nachman (taken from the San Francisco Chronicle)
Judy Garland was 20 minutes late opening night. Jim Bailey had
a run in her stocking. This, not temperament, is what delayed the stars
entrance at Theatre on the Square, where the (very) late Miss Garland
reappeared Wednesday night.
what remains one of the strangest, most astonishing acts ever to trod
the boards, The Incredible Jim Bailey Is Judy Garland In Concert
(as the show is officially called) arrived here from somewhere over
the rainbow, where songbirds sing from beyond the grave.
Having only seen Baileys Garland as a quick guest shot on TV, I wasnt quite prepared for, nor did I especially crave, the full-length unabridged version. But even those who enter skeptical emerge believers, which may be why Bailey labels himself an illusionist rather than an impersonator, with its comic, campy overtones.
makes it all work by overcoming your doubts, going well beyond them
into some otherworldly realm. This is no mere impression, hes
saying. This is the woman herself, lacking only the one detail
a heartbeat. There isnt a hint of camp or comic condescension
in Baileys Garland. He doesnt trade on easy imitation or
play to emotionalism. One measure of his long-run success as Garland
(and others, who unfortunately are kept in his trunk) is that the audience
listens to the songs and reacts to them almost as if it
were Judy herself.
Its all quite weird and confusing at the end, when you wonder whether the audience is cheering Bailey or Garland; like a cat meowing at a painting of a saucer of milk. It takes a while to stop staring at the reincarnation, but after 45 minutes you find yourself listening as well as gawking, which becomes almost rude and slightly voyeuristic. Its an act within an act, as reality and illusion fight for center stage, with Garland and Bailey fading in and out, overlapping, then merging into a single spirit.
are moments during the show when you forget its a show, a clever
act of mimicry, and it becomes The Legend herself up there singing You
Made Me Love You, Zing, Went The Strings Of My Heart
and How Long Has This Been Going On? Baileys Judy
is more than a mere collection of songs, inflections and gestures, almost
surgically fused into a seamless personality. Its a lot of Garland,
maybe too much for some, but Bailey gives you a range of Garland to
choose from; four costume changes, two hair-dos and a full wardrobe
of moods girlish, tomboyish, gaudy, glamorous, none of it distorted
into caricature. Its trompe loeil portraiture.
herself was more emotional and giddy onstage than Bailey, who, by underplaying
her a little, keeps from tottering over into female impersonation. Judy
stays life-size and appeals even to non-Garlandophile. Its a respectful,
not reverential, portrayal. He looks like her, acts like her, moves
like her, laughs like her and almost incidentally, sounds like her.
opening Garland in a short, snug blue skirt, four-inch heels
and spangled jacket reveals legs that Garland would have killed
for, as she teeters around in pumps with that scared, imploring, look
in her dark eyes, plucking nervously at a forelock and speaking in fits,
starts and stifled giggles. The voice and gestures are subtly woven
into an entire persona, but the detail work is amazing: Judy hugging
herself, one hand cupping an elbow, the microphone cord wrapped over
a shoulder or kicking it away with a perfectly rendered little backward
flip of her foot.
you get the idea after five songs, you dont get the rounded creation.
Its not like a two hour Bette Davis impression, but even as mere
mimicry, its fleshed out. Just when I thought Bailey had recalled
every Garland nuance, he found new ones her scuttling half-steps,
the hand around the throat, tucking her head into a shoulder on a final
note (he even has her shoulders). Baileys timing is as accurate
as his phrasing, not just in the lyric but in the chatter. He slides
in and out of Garlands sound, but now and then hell hit
a phrase in her range and the stage seems haunted.