Stage: The Judy Garland Christmas Special

Under the laughs, Troy Mink hints at the diva’s demons.

This year's version brings a new drunken Judy to the set in the person of Troy Mink (who replaces Andrew Tasakos), and if you ever wondered how hysterical it might be to watch Nathan Lane fight with Judy Garland for control of the same body, Mink sets the standard.The play broadly recreates that legendarily disastrous rehearsal for Judy's TV show (which aired one month to the day after President Kennedy was killed in Dallas), complete with Garland's stream-of-consciousness rants, intermittent hallucinations, and occasional blackouts. Whenever she's in danger of being called out, her go-to remedy is to belt out a few bars of one of her biggest hits, whether or not the occasion demands.Along for the fun (if you can call it that) is her awkward brood of oversexed and undertalented kids. There's Liza and Lorna (both played by Josh Hartvigson) and the squeaky-clean Joey (Craig Trolli), plus an underwhelming cavalcade of guests—Liza's "beau" (Gary Zinter), singing mannequin Jack Jones (Todd Hull), and Mel Tormé (Margaretta Lantz), who Judy mockingly dubs "the Velvet Frog."Ron Sandahl's direction is loose and light, the shoestring set nonetheless delivers a few surprises of its own, and the ensemble players seem to be as tickled as we are to watch Garland's star go supernova.Drunken relatives are nothing new, especially this time of year, and certainly there's nothing here as coarse as Billy Bob Thornton's ode to dissipation in Bad Santa. But it's a kind of a guilty pleasure to watch Mink's Judy lurch between moments of lucidity. While the other performers are playing their roles for laughs alone (and get plenty for the effort), you can alsowatch Mink closelyfor a momentand suddenly feel engulfed by pityfor Ms. Garland and whatever demons she must have been fighting. None of that is explored here, but it'sthat momentarytwinge of sorrowthat makes this Judy Garland Christmas Specialsomethingmemorable.Following the show, there's a DVD screening of the program as it aired in December 1963. Lorna is a deer in the headlights of her mother's fame, Liza is already plotting a palace coup, and Joey couldn't carry a tune in a lunchbox. And, as in Mystery Science Theater 3000, Mink sits offstage toslatherJudy'scolor commentary over the taping.

 
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