Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco is a theatre-in-the-round, allowing patrons to sit behind the stage as well as in front or on the sides. Those who sat behind the stage in December 2010 caught a few good views of the performer’s face, but mostly they were looking at her sequined back and red scarf. Every time she turned around to face them and I got a glimpse of her profile, I was absolutely certain I was staring at her mother. After slaying us with what we thought was her grand finale, Liza Minnelli poked her head out from behind the curtain and whispered, “I just saw the cutest thing.” She walked down to the front row and brought on stage a little girl dressed in a flapper outfit similar to one Liza wore in Cabaret (1972). Putting the little girl on her lap, Liza told the story of how her parents met on the set of Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and ended her December concert with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
On April 23, 1961, Judy Garland performed live at Carnegie Hall. Exactly 50 years ago today, the woman whose voice remains my favorite of all time charmed that fortunate audience with 26 of her greatest songs. Along with “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “That’s Entertainment,” and “You Go To My Head” (to which she forgets the words, bless her heart!), Judy paused now and then for a bit of humorous story time. Although she was approaching 40, that laugh of hers still had the softness of a little girl’s.
Having worked a year at Beach Blanket Babylon, I’ll always have a little giggle of my own attached to the song “San Francisco.” When I sat down and calculated, I believe I saw the BBB cast perform that song close to 500 times. Aside from the theatre, many of these wonderful songs bring to life the many wonderful films of hers. Judy didn’t perform “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” but the medley of “You Made Me Love You”/”For Me and My Gal”/”The Trolley Song” brings me an all-too-familiar smile that beams with an “I love that movie!” Having covered Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and For Me and My Gal (1942), she moved on to “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody,” at the end of which she sighed one of our favorite Judy-isms: “I know, I’ll, I’ll sing ’em all, and we’ll stay all night!” That line, which I’ve rewound more times than I’ll ever admit, was a ruby-red tornado that carried Judy and her audience smoothly into “Over the Rainbow.”
Of the 26 gems, still nothing pulls at my heart and tear ducts like “The Man That Got Away.” Along with “Swanee,” Judy pulled this extraordinary song from the soundtrack for A Star Is Born, a film for which Harpo Marx and I agree she should have won an Oscar. I can do the great Judy Garland little justice, if any . . . pour yourself a glass of ruby-red, fire up the record player, and celebrate with me the 50th anniversary of the untouchable Judy Garland’s performance at Carnegie Hall.
Thanks Miss Garland . . . I think I miss you most of all!