Get Happy: A 90th Birthday Celebration
Peter Mac's at the French Market
Mac clearly adores Garland, and he used mostly her own funny, self-deprecating, bitter, ironic, reflective or matter-of-fact words to let an audience know what she was all about, movingly tracing her life from birth to her final days in London – and, in a way, beyond — utilizing a variety of wigs, costumes (including one fat suit) and powerful acting chops to recall the star at specific moments in her life. At no point in the two-act set was Mac less than amazing.
He came on stage for this show in his usual “Judy drag” — wig, makeup and Garland’s look during her short-lived TV series from 1963-64 — to discuss her childhood, softening his vocal style to approximate the star’s more youthful sound on “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” (James F. Hanley) and a touching recreation of “(Dear Mr. Gable) You Made Me Love You” (James V. Monaco/Joseph McCarthy) as sung to Clark Gable.
Stepping offstage following a medley from The Wizard of Oz — including only the verse, but not the chorus, of THAT song — Mac returned in a long red wig with bangs, a black jacket, plaid skirt, a frily white collar and white gloves to sing “The Trolley Song” (Hugh Martin, Meet Me in St. Louis).
After discussing the end of Garland’s career at MGM, Mac left the stage again, returning in short-ponytail wig to perform a note-for-note, gesture-for-gesture recreation of “The Man That Got Away” (Harold Arlen/Ira Gershwin, A Star Is Born).
Then, reflecting on the birth of her son Joey Luft just before losing out on an Oscar, Mac as Garland sang “It’s a New World” (Arlen/Gershwin, A Star Is Born) — which would have been a sweet, fitting close to Act 1. However, Mac exited and came back in a fat suit —explaining Garland’s weight gain as a result of bloating from hepatitis — to tell us how doctors told Garland her career was over. “Wanna bet?” Mac as Garland said as he exited — another perfect moment to close Act 1. However, he was right back with a Carnegie Hall segment, including a terrific “Come Rain or Come Shine” (Arlen/Mercer, St. Louis Woman) and “Swanee” (George Gershwin/Irving Caesar) that finally closed Act 1.
The second act began with Garland’s TV series and a spot-on recreation of Mort Lindsey’s great arrangement of “Just in Time” (Comden & Green/Jule Styne, Bells Are Ringing), then a recounting of her friendship with President Kennedy and a piercing scream from Mac on hearing he had been assassinated, culminating in a powerful “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (Julia Ward Howe).
Garland’s casting, briefly, as Helen Lawson in Valley of the Dolls gave Mac another opportunity for a costume change, this time into the brown-and-green pants suit the character wore in the movie, and to have fun with an enthusiastic version of “I’ll Plant My Own Tree” (André and Dory Previn).
Mac was superb in a reflective monologue recounting Garland’s attitude toward the emotional impact she felt being on stage, which led cleverly to his singing “When Do the Words Come True?” written by John Meyer as a heartfelt tribute to Garland after her death. Then Mac as Garland changed into a short wig to conduct a London press conference before launching into an excellent “San Francisco” (Bronislaw Kaper/Walter Jurmann/Gus Kahn) and the always-touching “Over the Rainbow” (Arlen/Yip Harburg).
When the overhead sound system played actual news reports of Garland’s death in 1969 at age 47, at least one audience member could be heard gasping as if surprised by the news, so effective was Mac’s illusion of Garland in life. This was followed immediately by Mac’s welcome return to the stage in tux jacket and stockings to sing “Get Happy” (Arlen/Ted Koehler, used in Summer Stock) to end the show on a bright note.
Based on his sensitive portrayal of Garland in a number of cabaret performances over the past few years, Mac is scheduled later this year to receive the Golden Halo Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern California Motion Picture Council “for maintaining the legacy of Judy Garland in a loving and faithful way.”
Throughout the two-hour show, Mac had excellent backing from Bryan Miller on piano and some offstage voices provided by director D.J. Schaefer. The show will continue to run weekends through July.