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By Rohan Preston (taken from The Star Tribune)

     Feminist scholars have long posited that what we regard as the ideal for a woman’s body-the symmetry of the tapered shoulder and fit, contained hips-is really that of a young man-in drag.

     Actor-singer Jim Bailey, a trim man, adds another wrinkle to this argument.  In his tribute concert to Judy Garland, the self-described “illusionist” demonstrates that it’s not just his body that seems ideal for his portrayal of Garland, but also his whole package: voice, visage and carriage.

     Bailey’s show, in Minneapolis for a brief run at the Historic State Theatre before being retooled for Broadway, is a thing of mystery and magic.

     Though it is certainly theatrical, it is not a musical.  Bailey, who does not break character, has appropriated and replicated Garland’s concert persona completely, from the coy uncertainty of her school-girlish walk to the graceful neediness in her profuse bowing.

     Bailey seems to have access to the full vocabulary of Garland’s mannerisms and patter, and he composes his character in the moment.

     “Judy” is really a deft revue-a swoon to a figure whose quaver suggested not just vulnerability, but also a search for solace, an escape from terror.

     Bailey’s outfits-a sequined jacket and a black cocktail dress during the first half of the show, then a glittering pant-suit in the second half-sparkle as much as his voice.  A tenor, he skated over Garland’s complexity, seemingly without forethought, delivering in a voice that’s at once pretty and wanting, as if needing a fix of something like applause.  He did find deeper emotional shadows in some of the songs, especially “Stormy Weather,” which also had a hind of Lena Horne’s ancient longing, to “The Man That Got way” and “Come Rain Or Come Shine.”

     Back by a languid, rich 20-piece orchestra under Wayne Meeds’ direction, Bailey shone on “Over The Rainbow,” Garland’s signature song.

     Would that he were around at the beginning of the twentieth century, when spiritualism was at its height.  He might have made an even bigger name for himself channeling minor and major royals.


Copyright ©2005 Jim Bailey. All rights reserved.