I feel just like Judy in the above picture, except in my case, the stacks of dishes are musical arrangements. I returned home from performances in Naples three weeks ago with a dozen arrangements still to finish for my new cabaret show, Get Happy! Judy Garland 1944-’54, which gets its first airing on April 1st. So I just spent my entire spring break from the Cleveland Institute of Music chained to my piano and running on Aeropress coffee and bonbons. You know you’ve been working too hard when a visit to the BMV to renew your expired driver’s license seems like a holiday...
However, last night around 9:45 I finished writing the last series of train whistles for “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe” after Mark brought me take-out Massamun curry — heigh-ho, the glamorous life! — so I was feeling a lot less fettered today. That is, until I recalled that there were a few more “dishes” to do: I’ve got to copy them all into Finale so that Jason Aquila can play them. Here are some of the manuscripts:
But the songs are really wonderful — they have to be if I’m going to transcribe piano accompaniments from the original orchestrations, which involves replaying a few bars, or sometimes a beat if it’s very thorny, over and over, often slowed down by fifty percent. (Fancy listening to very slow vibrato for 8 hours a day?)
If you’ve been following my Garland projects over the past few years, you may wonder why I’m not just using the many arrangements I’ve already got in the back catalogue. Well, I wanted to do a show of Judy’s songs from the decade that followed our other show, Love Finds Judy Garland, which takes place in 1944. The decade spanning 1944-’54 contained an unusual amount of dramatic ups and downs, even for drama-loving Judy. She was at the height of her box-office stardom in 1944 with Meet Me in St. Louis and went on to make some of her most beloved and iconic movies in the years that followed, including Easter Parade with Fred Astaire, In the Good Old Summertime with Van Johnson, and Summer Stock with Gene Kelly, which was her last completed film at MGM before they terminated her contract. Good friend Bing Crosby helped ensure she made lots of radio appearances to fill the gap, but then she clicked her heels and found the place where she truly felt at home: the concert stage, first the London Palladium, then a 19-week run that revived the Palace Theatre in New York and smashed all kinds of records. She said of her return to performing for live audiences: “It was like breathing again. Having people let me know I still meant something to them; that they loved me and still wanted to hear me sing.”
During this time, the early ‘50s, she began singing some of the standards like “Rock-a-bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” that she continued to sing for the rest of her life. And then, there was her triumphant film comeback with A Star Is Born — this time, however, at Warner Brothers. Those of you who know those films and her concert recordings know that there is a motherlode of music to be mined, but I’d never had an opportunity to sing much of it for people until I created a Garland symphonic pops concert a few years ago that included “The Man That Got Away,” “Get Happy,” and “I Got the Sun in the Morning” in a crazy arrangement she performed at the Hollywood Bowl in 1946. As I began to expand that pops concert to include her later repertoire, and also studied her ‘60s-era singing to play the role of “Judy Garland” in The Boy From Oz last month (more on that here), I knew I also wanted to create a vehicle that would let me delve into this period of her life and music in more detail, and hence, Get Happy! was hatched. Here is a video of “The Man That Got Away” from a pops concert last summer with the Wheaton Symphony.
In addition to those songs, this new cabaret show will include, at this writing, “Last Night When We Were Young,” cut from In the Good Old Summertime and which I performed only once as part of an Arlen lecture at Case Western Reserve’s Symposium on Tin Pan Alley a few years ago; “I Love a Piano,” complete with a four-hand piano interlude that will include two of mine; “If You Feel Like Singing, Sing” from Summer Stock; “Johnny One-Note” and “Look for the Silver Lining;” and a few of her early concert songs, including the “Palace Medley” with special material by Roger Edens and the delightful “A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow,” which was in 1942’s Little Nellie Kelly but makes it into this show because she used it as an encore in her concerts.
There will also be a premiere of sorts: My new arrangement of a song, "There Is No Music," that Harry Warren and Ira Gershwin wrote for Judy to sing in The Barkleys of Broadway, a film that would have paired Judy and Fred Astaire together again right after Easter Parade. But Judy had to withdraw from the picture and Ginger Rogers stepped in. Presumably the role was changed to fit Ginger's particular gifts, as I can’t imagine where this song, a haunting minor-key waltz with a lilting, major-key middle section, was supposed to fit into the film that they eventually made. Harry Warren expert David Jenkins kindly brought it to my attention and I’ve enjoyed imagining, late at night after I’ve been aurally submerged in MGM orchestrations all day, what it might have sounded like if Judy had sung it at 2:00 a.m. at someone’s Hollywood party, as was her wont. Here is Michael Feinstein’s lovely rendition, but you’ll have to come to the show at The Bop Stop in Cleveland on April 1, 2016, or Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York City on June 3, 2016 to hear mine!
In the meantime, I’ve procrastinated long enough on copying those arrangements, so I’ll sign off with Judy’s “Look for the Silver Lining:”