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star is reborn
Thirty-five years ago, Jim Bailey played Judy Garland to the singer herself.
It happened at a small Hollywood club where the impersonator (or illusionist as he describes himself) was starting out in his career.
Her agent brought her in to see me, Bailey recalled from Los Angeles recently. My act was pretty raw then, but she thought it was amusing, and she said to me after that night, `I never realized I was that pretty.'
Since then, Bailey has made Garland the cornerstone of a hugely successful career that has won him accolades for his uncanny onstage re-creations of personalities such as Phyllis Diller, Peggy Lee and Barbra Streisand.
But it is Garland who holds a special place. And is it Garland whom Bailey will be bringing to Boston on Thursday night at Symphony Hall, where he plans to re-create that Garland magic in a place where she never performed.
Of all the ladies I do, Judy is the most fascinating,'' Bailey said. I feel I still haven't explored her fully.
And the reasons, for Bailey, are simple.
She's probably the greatest live entertainer of our time, Bailey said. She was an original.
There was no one like her before and there hasn't been anyone like her since. Talents like hers come once in a lifetime.
And, in a sense, so do talents like Bailey, whose verisimilitude is so precise that it is both astounding and unnerving, especially his re-creation of Garland.
I don't find it spooky. People find it spooky. I guess it's like channeling. I channel her. I touch her. Wherever she is her spirit touches me, Bailey said. And when I'm on the stage I feel her being.
It's almost like fate put us together. And fate took her away and put me there. I went on to continue a career that never should have ended. I have a gift that I can't explain - it's very strange to me to try to analyze that.
But I know from doing Peggy Lee and Phyllis Diller and Barbra Streisand when they saw me do them, they become a little shaken, a little nervous about it because I become a carbon copy of them. I think that's what happens to these ladies when they see me. They become a little scared.
I'm the character actor that's what I am, Bailey said. I do what Hal Holbrook does with Mark Twain, what Gary Oldman did in the movie `JFK' when he played Lee Harvey Oswald.
I do what men do as character actors, I only happen to do women. When I'm doing Judy, in my mind's eye I am seeing Judy Garland. It's acting.
I guess the secret of my success, and part of the gift is the fact that I'm a man doing a woman, and that's part of the illusion - I am not a man on the stage anymore, I am that person.
Ironically though, he feels his success also might have limited his career in some ways.
Judy was a one of a kind. I am a one of a kind,'' Bailey said. But being one of a kind, that can be difficult because you don't fit into any mold. And when you don't fit into any mold in this business you become a misfit.
Judy Garland in Concert with Jim Bailey, Symphony Hall, 8 p.m. Thursday. Tickets: $29.50-$45. Call 617-266-1200 or 617-931-2000.