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Like many Americans, and citizens of the world, I am genuinely bewildered by the election of Donald Trump as the forty-fifth President of the United States. Even writing the words still feels like a bit of dystopian fiction. I’m disappointed, angry, scared, – a tense collection of emotions I’m still wading, and hopefully working, through. Unlike the election of George W. Bush in 2000 – where, like now, the Democrat actually won the popular vote (small consolation, that, unfortunately), I don’t just feel disappointed and annoyed. I feel genuinely terrified.

Hillary_Clinton_(24266562219).jpgI’ll be real – I really, really wanted Hillary Clinton to be President of the United States, and that’s not a new feeling. I lived through the 1990s – granted I was a child, but I still remember them, and thinking then that times were good. As a child, it was simply a fact that Bill Clinton was president. It was an immutable fact, not a transitory one. The capital was Washington D.C. and Bill Clinton was the President. On Tuesday evening, I felt much the same way as the returns came in. While Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had both run for the office, it was, to my mind another immutable fact that Hillary Clinton would be the next President of the United States. Hillary would be President, and she would continue the progressive, supportive work of President Obama. That’s what any rational person would want, and I had to believe there were more good people in America than narrow-minded ones.

We have seen so much progress under President Obama that I never thought would happen – the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and marriage equality, to name but a few that, as an LGBT American struck particularly close to home.

Separately, Clinton’s plans to reduce the cost of higher education, and to work to reduce the burden on those already working to repay their student loans, had me truly hopeful. I wanted that – no, I needed that. Repaying those loans is not a minor inconvenience; it is an almost insurmountable wall, a decades long sentence of indentured servitude to the US government, and a private loan company. Of course, if I could go back, I might do a few things differently as a naive 18-year-old entering college – I mean, would some loan counseling have gone amiss?! But on the whole, honestly, I wouldn’t. Given the butterfly effect, any change might cost me my past experiences and my present happinesses. I’m well aware I chose to complete my postgraduate degree abroad – but as I still live abroad, and now have in-laws out of the deal, I’d struggle to change any of that. However, a President Clinton, with the help of Bernie Sanders, no doubt, would have worked to make that repayment more manageable, or even, frankly, manageable.

A President Hillary Clinton would have fostered, as she was fond of saying, an “open, big-hearted America” instead of the divisive, hate-mongering America we have already seen start to rear its head in the last few days. I wanted Hillary Clinton to be President because I honestly believe in her message. I believe we are stronger together; that everyone regardless of his or her gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or documented status, deserves a fair chance in America. I strongly believe we should be working to help immigrants, “legal” or not, to lawfully integrate into American society. America should recognize what such immigrants are running from, and help to right the wrongs in the world, rather than blaming its victims. We should acknowledge and accept that Latino Americans, and specifically Mexican Americans have been part of the fabric of America from the very beginning – after all, much of what is now the southwest of the United States was once part of Mexico. You can’t blame a people when you move the imaginary line that demarcates countries. We should not see their presence in America as a threat – but rather an enrichment of the nation to be embraced and celebrated. Yes, given the current state of American society, all people living in the United States should have a functional knowledge of English – but given the ever-changing make up of the country, and the fact that some sixty million Americans speak Spanish at home – is it not also reasonable that everyone might also benefit from at least a passing knowledge of Spanish as well?

Under President Obama, with all of the progress that had been made on behalf of gay and lesbian Americans, we were just starting to see a conversation begin on the challenges faced, and rights denied, to our fellow transgendered Americans. Under President Clinton, undoubtedly, that conversation would have continued, and education and awareness could have grown. Under Trump, I fear it will vanish. We have already seen reports of anti-LGBT attacks taking place in Donald Trump’s name – and a week has yet to pass.

I grew up in the Midwest – Indiana. You can’t get more conservative than Indiana, truly. This is the same state with the Governor, now Vice-President Elect who truly believes in conversion therapy – and shock therapy, for LGBT Americans. Indiana is a state where men are “men” and women are “women,” and God help you if you don’t conform. Trust me, I know; I grew up there. This rigid attitude is everywhere, and makes anyone who doesn’t conform feel terrible. This thinking could now take over great swaths of the country – if it hasn’t already. I remember being taunted so many days as school, being called “faggot,” having food, often wet food, thrown at me, or being told I’d be “the next Matthew Shepard.” Is it any wonder I left the United States as soon as undergrad ended?

With the reality of President Obama, and the fervent belief, almost certainty, of a second President Clinton, I had hoped that moments like those I had experienced would soon enough become something very much of the past. Yet, now, I, nor anyone else, can have that certainty. A gentle optimism in my country has been replaced by a cesspool of fear. It’s like the floor has dropped out, and the crocodiles are waiting below.

Now, instead of the hope of having the single most qualified woman, no, person, ever to run for the office as President of the United States, we will soon enough have Donald Trump. Donald Trump has never held elected office, and has made a name for himself (politically) as the strongest proponent of the “birther movement,” calling into question the citizenship, and legitimacy of our first African American president. In the midst of his campaign he has called Mexicans rapists, called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States, been found to openly endorse sexually assaulting women, openly mocked the disabled, and even been found on tape to openly express the desire to have sex with his own daughter.

I get it, to one degree or another – there are many people who just don’t like Hillary Clinton. She’s not a warm and cuddly woman. She openly said, as early as 1992, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life” in response to a reporters question. She was not a traditional First Lady, for she is not a traditional woman. She has always been an independent woman with her own drive and ideas. How terrible. We should admire her for that, fiercely, for going after what she believed in, every step of the way. For trying to reform health care while First Lady, for supporting first responders after September 11th, for putting to rights America’s image around the world as Secretary of State during President Obama’s first term – after George W. Bush and his administration led the country into a recession, and decimated its international image.

I admire her for standing up and speaking the truth, even when it wasn’t popular, for saying, proudly that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights,” and two decades later expanding that at the UN to say “Gay rights are human rights” as well. And beyond that, I feel a great triumph in the history of the rights of women in world history has been ripped away. Instead of breaking through the glass ceiling, Hillary Clinton has instead been ripped to shreds by it, leaving only a misogynistic, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, bigot in her place.

I weep for the future that could have been, and I weep for the people who will now suffer, myself included, because of it. Yet, if there is any good news out of this, it is that Hillary Clinton actually won. More Americans spoke up for her vision of America, than that infested with fear and hatred perpetuated by Donald Trump. It is only through the machinations of the Electoral College, a technicality, that Trump will take the White House. A technicality that will cost the world dearly. There will come another day to fight, to pick up Hillary’s baton and run with it. For now, give me a moment. For right now, I’m angry. I’m angry with the young people who showed up for Obama, but couldn’t be bothered for Hillary. I’m angry at those on the far left who believed so fervently in Bernie Sanders that they couldn’t bring themselves to be rational and vote for Hillary and instead voted for a third party candidate, costing her the election, and installing Donald Trump in the White House. I’m sad, but more than anything, I’m angry. Don’t ask me to get over it anytime soon. I won’t, and maybe that’s a good thing, because I’m an American with a voice, and after watching Hillary, and America, lose by the slimmest of margins, I’m now not afraid to use it.

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This past Saturday, after well over a year of anticipation, I had the pleasure to experience the Victoria and Albert Museum’s new exhibition, ‘Hollywood Costume.’ I was far from disappointed.

The exhibition, with over 130 costumes on display is, simply, a beautiful love letter to Hollywood, and the role of the costume designer in its history. The exhibition is comprised of three sections, or ‘acts.’ ‘Deconstruction,’ strives to examine the role of the designer in researching characters to know who they are, and how they should be presented, while ‘Dialogue,’ explains the collaborative process between the designer and director to bring the character to life. The third gallery, ‘Finale,’ is the culmination of these processes, exhibiting those costumes that have become, simply, part of the ether of popular culture.

Walking into the exhibition, you’re confronted by a cinema screen as wide as the exhibition room itself, showing short film clips, each focusing on a costume piece in the collection, with a sweeping score seducing you into the darkened cinematic galleries. Indiana Jones, Dorothy Gale, Mildred Piece, Scarlett O’Hara (and others) appear in quick succession. As someone absolutely enamored of film costumes (none more so than a certain pair of little red shoes), I’d been excited for this day ever since an announcement of the exhibition had appeared in the auction catalog for the sale of Debbie Reynolds collection in the summer of 2011. I thought it would be an amazing day, looking at all these fantastic works of art. But, I wasn’t prepared for what they would make me feel.

Turning the first corner into the exhibition, I was confronted by Scarlett O’Hara’s (Vivien Leigh) iconic green velvet curtain dress from Gone with the Wind, and I was instantly in tears, near sobbing. I’m, admittedly, an emotional person, but this felt like a punch to the stomach, and I surprised even myself. I expected the most memorable pieces to be in the exhibition’s final act. Seeing one of my favorite pieces right away was outright shocking. I stood there for a moment to catch my bearings, when I realized the pieces are not surrounded by glass, they are open to the viewer, which only added to all the pieces’ impact.

But, the first gallery holds many gems, Queen Christina (Greta Garbo), Marie Antoinette (Norma Shearer), Queen Elizabeth (Bette Davis) in The Virgin Queen, the Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) in Circus, and Lady Maria Barker (Marline Dietrich) in Angel, in a sea of more contemporary pieces.

Now, I acknowledge, every piece has a story; each is the result of a great deal of collaborative work, to discover what best suits the character, the story, and the mise-en-scène. But modern American cinema, on the whole, doesn’t speak to me in the same way Classical Hollywood does. So, I’m partial from the start.

Throughout the exhibition, rather than simply lifeless garments on forms, an effort is made to pose and display the figures in such a way to evoke the actor and character they once dressed. Also, an inventive use of screens and projections furthers the illusion of embodiment, combining the forms with theatrically-inspired lighting and an original score, giving one the sense, that you are within some of Hollywood’s most memorable films.

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In the second part of the exhibition, ‘Dialogue,’ interviews between three different directors (Tim Burton, Martin Scorsese, and Alfred Hitchcock) and their costume designers (Colleen Atwood, Sandy Powell, and Edith Head) play, to demonstrate the collaborative nature of bringing the characters to life. Also featured in the same gallery is a section of costumes from Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro, both of whom take a heavy hand in the creation of their respective characters. Included here were also Scarlett O’Hara’s feathered red dress, Darth Vader, Joan Crawford’s red bugle beaded gown from The Bride Wore Red, and Hedy Lamarr’s green peacock dress from DeMille’s Samson and Deliah, among several others. Included with each costume throughout the exhibition was a short explanation from the director, producer, costume designer, or actor, explaining the motivations behind each piece, offering a glimpse of its individual creation story.

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In the third gallery, ‘Finale,’ (being me) my eyes immediately searched the room for Dorothy, and finding her, I wanted to rush by everything else just to get there. (Regardless of the fact I just viewed another of the Oz pinafores just a few weeks ago.) But, as my partner aptly said, ‘[W]e have some old friends here to visit first,’ and that surmises how many of us see these characters. As curator Deborah Landis has said, ‘No costume designer sets out to create an icon,’ but when the characters become so beloved by the public, their costumes become iconic in their own right. Costume design, as she is at pains to demonstrate throughout the exhibition, is never about the clothes. It’s about the characters and their stories, and how those stories resonate with us. In short, it’s about the magic of the movies.

ImageAs a child, I loved nothing more than to sit down with a Classical Hollywood film, and many I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve seen dozens of times. So, for me, they really did feel something like old friends and, to see the clothes many of those characters in my imagination wore, well, it touched me deeply. For those who love movies, we carry those characters, and their stories, with us, and, thankfully for us, we can visit them whenever we wish.

The collection Landis has put together, to her immense credit, couldn’t be much more impressive. Populating the last room were, a cavalcade of my favorite characters. Among them were, Eliza Dolittle and Professor Henry Higgins (Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison) from My Fair Lady,  Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) from The Philadelphia Story, Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Amy Jolly (Marlene Dietrich) from Morocco,  Fanny Brice from Funny Girl and Dolly Levi from Hello Dolly! (both Barbra Streisand), Rose DeWitt Bukater and Jack Dawson (Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio) from Titanic, Sugar Kane Kowalczyk from Some Like It Hot and The Girl from The Seven Year Itch (both Marilyn Monroe) and finally Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) from The Wizard of Oz.

While the lighting made details of some garments difficult to see, and the positioning of others made a clear view impossible (this was particularly the case with the Titanic pieces), the exhibition is, without a shred of doubt, an embarrassment of riches.

But, for me, nothing could ever beat the very last few pieces. Turning that last corner, there sat, Dorothy’s pinafore and, nearby, in their small case, the ruby slippers. Yes, I saw one of the pinafores around two weeks ago, and another pair of the slippers just under a year ago, and having studied them for years now, I really do know just about every detail of every pair in existence. But standing in front of them all over again, pointing out the tiniest details of their construction and condition, it couldn’t matter less. For these are special; they are the slippers that took Dorothy home, and standing there with them again, I’m left with the sheer magic of the film, and my love of Hollywood, and, just maybe, the desire to be part of it.

Which, isn’t that the point of the exhibition itself, anyway?

This past weekend, I watched the video, via YouTube of the West Coast premiere of Dustin Lance Black’s new play about Proposition 8 and the fight for marriage equality in California, 8. Using the transcripts from the trial Perry v. Schwarzenegger, along with first-hand observations of the courtroom drama and interviews with the plaintiffs and their families, the play reconstructs the trial which struck down Proposition 8, a 2008 California ballot initiative that amended the state constitution to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples, finding it unconstitutional.

Now, I wasn’t sure what to expect; a play based on a trial, even a trial with personal significance for me, seemed to have the possibility of being cryptic and potentially boring. Yet, using the actual words of the litigants, and their families, legal counsel, and other witnesses, you find, a revealing examination of what happened when the issue of same-sex marriage was put on trial. But, I’m not here to talk about the play; for that, I invite you to seek out the many reviews and opinion pieces that I’m sure have been written to its credit. I want to talk about, well, what this whole thing means to me.

Looking back, ‘same-sex marriage’ initially seemed to me like this thing thrown around and discussed among various friends of mine during my undergraduate education, a concept more than a potential reality. I suppose, at the time, it didn’t seem to matter much to me. I wasn’t remotely close to considering marrying anyone then, after all. I figured it was something that would happen in due course, and once it did I would take advantage of the opportunity if I ever felt the desire.

Growing up in Indiana, it wasn’t something I saw (remotely) as a possibility in my immediate surroundings, so I just put it on the theoretical back-burner and left it there. After all, I was a young American living in a country that only (at the time) had same-sex marriage in select pockets. It was, and largely still is, the exception rather than the rule. Besides, if I met someone, they would be American too, so what would it matter, really, if we were married or not?

Well, here I am a few years later, and, at 25, it matters a great deal to me. I left Indiana, and the United States, after undergrad, to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Sussex and, much to my surprise, I met someone who has become, quite simply, my favorite person in the world. More than that, Juan is the person who makes me laugh, and opens my eyes, who teaches me more than I ever realized I didn’t know, who listens to my incessant rambling about what I care for most, and makes me feel wonderfully special, every day, just for being myself. He is someone with whom I can’t go a few hours without speaking, if only to say ‘I love you,’ and after two and a half years together, we have built a simple, but wonderful, life together, full of books, old movies, and long drawn out discussions. It is everything I could ever hope for.

The only problem is… I miss home. Well, not the place. Indiana is not the most alluring locale in the world. I miss my family, and I want to be closer to them, if only a much shorter plane flight away.

I want to be nearer to my parents and my grandmother and my siblings and actually be a part of their lives again. But, because of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, it’s simply not an option. DOMA, as federal law, explicitly defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman, allowing the government to refuse a green-card to any non-American same-sex spouse within a bi-national couple, while also excusing states that do not practice same-sex marriage from acknowledging those performed in other states, among other exceptions.

Because of DOMA, I’m outright barred the liberty of having both my family of birth, and the family I have created, together. I must, as President Obama has said, ‘choose between the person [I] love and the country [I] call home,’ and that is far from fair, or just. Indeed, the President himself, along with a string of courts have deemed the law unconstitutional, and it is high time it be stripped from the law.

As an American, I could get on a plane tomorrow and return to the United States, but I would be forced to leave him behind; that would utterly break my heart and ruin my life. We could get married here (or more precisely ‘civil partnered,’ which sounds about as romantic, to me, as a business venture) but even that union wouldn’t matter one iota to the US government. It wouldn’t register; it wouldn’t exist. Alternatively, we could get on a plane tomorrow, fly to New York (or any of the increasing number of other states which allow same-sex marriages that don’t require residency) and get married there. However, again, because of DOMA, while an individual state would recognize that union, the federal government, and therefore the authorities responsible for immigration, would not, so I would be denied a green card application, were I to make one (and I most certainly would), on his behalf.

But you know, I really don’t think I should need to contemplate suing the US government for something that seems so elemental, so very basic to the fabric of my humanity. I have met someone I love and with whom I want to spend the rest of my life, therefore, I should have the right to marry him, and file paperwork to permit him to reside, and work, in my home country with me. Why should it matter if I love a man or a woman? You may or may not agree with it, but gay people exist, and we love the same as anyone else.  We should have the right not to be separated from those we love, period. To think otherwise is downright inhumane!

Some conservatives have argued that allowing gay people to marry would ruin the ‘sanctity’ of marriage. Personally, I think plenty of straight people do that well enough by themselves. But, they must also realize that marriage as it exists for many people, is already divorced from any form of religious significance. It is a legal contract, a civil institution, granting two people certain rights, responsibilities, and liberties. Whether or not those two people, or their families, want to attach a religious significance to that union, is entirely separate and independent of the legal document, and any ‘sanctity’ of that union is to be determined by the two people within that union, no one else.

I simply want, someday soon, to live in the country in which I was born, with both my biological family, and the family I have created. Isn’t that my right?

Today, a pair of the ruby slippers will be sold at auction. Not just any pair, but those worn by Judy Garland when Glinda magics them off the Wicked Witch of the East’s feet and proclaims, ‘There they are, and there they’ll stay,’ they are the most pristine, and best made, of the five pairs known to exist from the production, and the the only pair to not have felt adhered to the forward foundation. They are in excellent condition but not untouched by time.

As an ardent fan of the film, Judy Garland, and the slippers themselves, I’ve revelled in the release of new photographs of the slippers in the past few months, along with the opportunity, due to the slipper’s short tour to Solange Azagury-Partridge stores in Los Angeles, London, and New York, to see the slippers for myself.

But, while I’m excited by these prospects, and immensely glad to have had the opportunity to stare at them myself for over three hours in London, the idea of the auction still leaves me feeling quite sad indeed. These shoes are iconic, in the truest sense. They have been said to be the single most valuable piece of Hollywood memorabilia in the world, and regarding sheer dollars and cents, that may well be true. But to me, they’re more.

The ruby slippers would be as valuable to me, if they had no monetary value at all, and as a pair of shoes, they very really don’t. After all, after 72 years, no human being could ever wear them again. Placing them on a human foot would very likely destroy them. Their value is in their connection; not in what they are, but in what they mean.

Entering Solange in London a few weeks ago, I was immediately struck dumb by the slippers, resting silently in a glass case, in the middle of the small boutique. Staring at them for only a moment, I had a flash of everything they mean to me, of memories of sitting in front of the television, of endless hours reading about every detail of the production, and even of (yes) running around in a glittery pair of red shoes as a child. But more than that, standing in their presence, knowing what they are, and who wore them, I felt like I was in the presence of some small part of Judy Garland’s legacy, almost as if, in some small way, she was there, and I almost began to cry.

Steve Wilson, the curator for the film collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin, which holds in its collection five of the gowns originally worn by Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind, has said ‘[T]here’s nothing that captures the human aspect of film like a costume does,’ and that is exactly what I experienced with the slippers. It was that moment of realization that the stories of the creation of The Wizard of Oz, Production 1060, are not just stories. This seems self-evident, of course, but I wasn’t alive then, so, for me, it only felt like a series of tales, rehashed over the years.

But rooted to that spot, staring at those shoes, I realized the filmmaking really happened, and Judy Garland really wore them. Of course, no one placed any value in the shoes then (they cost perhaps $13 at the time) and after the production they were placed in the loft of a barn on the MGM backlot, where they rested, largely forgotten, for thirty years, until costumer Kent Warner rediscovered them in 1970, and took them home. They were the pride and joy of his collection, as, like me, a fan of Judy Garland, and Classic Hollywood, until he was forced to sale them due to his own failing health.

But the slippers are not just valuable because Judy wore them; after all, her other costume pieces have sold for much less than the slippers will realize. They are valuable because they are the main plot device in perhaps the most beloved film in the world, seen by more people than any other. Their value is about us, about those of us who saw Oz as children, and still hold it close to our hearts. For others, they are nothing but a pair of gaudy shoes; for us, they hold a very real magic.

The shoes are not just, as so many have said, an abstract symbol of home, or fantasy, or family.  They are a very real symbol, of our own attachment to our own memories of Oz, of our own pasts. For me, that’s my childhood, entwined in Oz as it were; being the Wicked Witch for Halloween, watching the film when I was recovering from heart surgery at the age of five, or receiving an Oz snow globe nearly every Christmas of my life.

The slippers are valuable to me because, in a very real way, they are part of my childhood, they are part of my life, they are part of me, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment, because our popular culture becomes a very real part of our lives and our identities, which explains why they are so valuable, in so many ways, to so many people.

So, the idea that they will be sold, to the highest bidder, reduced to monetary value, breaks my heart a little. I realize we live in a capitalist society, and that’s just the way it works, but I’ve genuinely shed tears over the fact I can’t have them, save them, protect them. I want more than anything, to see the slippers in a museum. If whomever wins the slippers today should ever read this, please know, what you possess is not just a relic of Hollywood history; you own a symbol of a very real part of many people’s lives, and they want, if not deserve, to see them.

My greatest fear with the auction is not simply that they will be sold, but that, after today, they will seemingly disappear. Now, it’s not fair to say that they’ve always been on display. Kent Warner never displayed them publicly, and their most recent owner only did so intermittently, but I always knew who owned them, and had some idea where they were.  After today, like Michael Shaw’s stolen pair, they will quite possibly disappear from public consciousness for years, if not forever.

I hope I’m wrong, I hope with all my heart I’m wrong.

If you’re the lucky winner of the slippers, please prove me wrong. Display them for the public. Let them see them; let them love them. At the very least, please email me, if only so I’ll know they’re safe.

Anyone who knows me, even remotely, is well aware I’m quite excited for this Tuesday, 1 March, as it is the official opening night performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new production of The Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium, and I will be in attendance!

The show has been, publicly, in development since the announcement of Lord Lloyd Webber’s then upcoming search for a new performer to take on the iconic role of Dorothy, as early as 2009, with the BBC program ‘Over the Rainbow’ running on BBC One from March to May, 2010.

Having not seen How to Solve a Problem Like Maria?, Any Dream Will Do, nor I’d Do Anything (Lord Lloyd Webber’s search for actors to play Maria, Joseph, and Nancy, respectively) my expectations, and hopes, for such a program, were mixed, if not outright pessimistic.

After all, Judy Garland is Dorothy, and to imagine anyone else playing the part was simply unthinkable, and for a moment, I wished for the failure of the project in total. How dare they even attempt to find a Dorothy?!

Interestingly, I had the same reaction (to a lesser extent) when the announcement of a musical version of Wicked surfaced. Gregory Maguire’s original revisionist novel is of a tone much darker than the musical, so I had little hope for it, and even actively avoided it for a few years, before rediscovering it quite by accident. My eventual love of the musical version of Wicked gives me hope the same may be true for this new version of The Wizard of Oz.

But, let’s be clear here; this is The Wizard of Oz. I’ve adored everything related to Oz (the books, the film, etc) and particularly Judy Garland, since I was five years old. I know the film’s screenplay by heart and every lyric to every song – even those cut from the final film! Even now, (being without a job and waiting for the Home Office to send me my UK work visa), I spend a great deal of each week day working on replicating Judy Garland’s ruby slippers, exactly as they actually appear today. So, I’m just a little picky.

However, even back in March 2010, I felt, if there were a person who could bring Oz to the stage, it was Lord Lloyd Webber. While he has never been a critic’s darling; his shows are, after all, accessible and popular, (How dare he!) he did nevertheless, bring the world Evita, Cats, and, of course, The Phantom of the Opera, among others, all musicals which I’ve admittedly enjoyed on stage, particularly Phantom, which I’ve seen many times over. While his recent work on the Phantom sequel, Love Never Dies, caused some initial concern; seeing it in its first few months, as much as I wanted to like it, I simply couldn’t; he has since rewritten much of the show, to eventual critical approval, if not acclaim. (I’m keen to see it again to reevaluate the show.)

So, when Over the Rainbow began in late March 2010, despite Lord Lloyd Webber’s directives that he wanted potential Dorothys to effectively wipe away the image of Judy Garland, to bring something fresh and original to the role, I nevertheless found myself looking for Garland in the contestants, which left me, initially, hoping for Dani Rayner to win, because she was 16, and bore a slight resemblance to the screen legend.

Once she was (rightfully) eliminated, in Week 3, when posed against the eventual winner, Danielle Hope, in a sing off of ‘Maybe This Time’ from Cabaret, I was irritated, as I was judging the girls not on their singing/dancing/acting abilities, but rather on their resemblance to Garland. (I was being petty – I got over it.)

After Dani’s elimination, I briefly backed Lauren Samuels to be Dorothy, but, while I found her voice extremely talented, she rubbed me (and much of the audience, it seems) the wrong way, coming off as either overconfident or arrogant, neither qualities one would want in a Dorothy. This, in my opinion, was particularly clear in Week 5 when Lauren sang ‘The Man That Got Away,’ a song, not insignificantly, originated by Judy Garland in A Star is Born, and meant for a somewhat older, and sexually experienced, woman.  While I don’t know who chose the song, it was a bad choice, making Samuels seem even more big-headed, taking on a Garland standard far beyond her years.

This same week, Danielle Hope sang ‘Mambo Italiano,’ the number many feel became not only the number of the night, but that most remembered from the series as a whole. It quickly won me over, showing not only Hope’s formidable vocal talents, but equally her dancing abilities, and her real sense of fun, a trait Judy Garland herself possessed, and endeared her to those who knew her. Danielle, I realized that night, possesses many of the traits that made Judy Garland Dorothy.


For the remainder of the competition, I actively endorsed Danielle to be Dorothy, particularly enjoying her renditions of ‘On My Own’ (From Les Miserables), ‘Popular’ (From Wicked – with Lauren), and ‘Seventy Six Trombones’ (From The Music Man). By the final week of the program, I was thrilled to see Danielle win the competition, and the role of Dorothy.

Since May, 2010, there has been a small steady stream of information about the new production, but nothing more than slight tidbits, rehearsal photos, and behind the scenes video blogs, which, clearly, are always careful never to reveal too much, and never show much of the state of the Palladium stage. To do so, obviously, would be to reveal quite a lot, and the producers obviously want to entice the public as much as possible to come and see the show.

We do know, however, that Lord Lloyd Webber has re-teamed with his Evita lyricist, Tim Rice, to compose new numbers for the production, to accompany those written for the film by Harold Arlen and E. Y. ‘Yip’ Harburg, the results of which I’m quite anxious to hear!

I have never been one for going in search of spoilers, anyway. I quite enjoy the thrill of letting the theatrical experience unfold before me with my having quite little knowledge of it. I certainly wasn’t aware of the plot twists when I saw Wicked, and I’ve heard there are a few in Oz as well, even for those of us who know the film inside out. From the video blogs the production has released, I sense there is a fusion of both the original Baum novel, and the classic MGM film in this new production, a sense only heightened by the release this morning of a few new production stills. In the images released, both Danielle Hope, and Michael Crawford (as the Wizard) wear costumes quite reminiscent (though not exact copies) of the film originals, while Dorothy’s three companions (and Toto too!) seem drawn heavily from the original W.W. Denslow illustrations.

So, despite my initial reservations, I can’t wait for Tuesday! I’ll be the one, despite in the Royal Circle, in a full suit and tie, soaking up every moment of it!

 

The London Palladium façade

There are few venues as identified with Judy Garland during her post-MGM concert career as the London Palladium. Certainly the RKO Palace and Carnegie Hall as well, but Judy Garland’s second career began, in earnest, on 9 April 1951, at the London Palladium. So, it seems quite appropriate that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new production of The Wizard of Oz has taken up residence at the venue.

Judy Garland on 9 April 1951

Garland herself would stay there for four weeks in 1951, performing a 35 minute program (among a collection of other performers) twice nightly, before her (possibly more famous) run at the RKO Palace in New York City later that same year.

Judy Garland would return to London many times over the next two decades, and to the Palladium stage specifically next on 18 November 1957, and later on 1 December 1960 for The Royal Command Performance Variety Show (now the Royal Variety Performance), performing before HM Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Importantly to Judy’s later career, it was at the Palladium that Judy first performed a concert, then called, “An Evening with Judy Garland” on 28 August, and again on 4 September 1960, which was Judy’s first two-act solo concert. It was also, according to Scott Schechter’s Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Legend, “actually the first known, two-act, solo, one-woman concert by a female pop vocalist.” Far from an insignificant achievement! The set list she performed on 28 August 1960, with the exception of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” which she sang in honor of the recently passed Oscar Hammerstein, would be the same she would later sing at the more famous Carnegie Hall concert on 21 April 1961.

Judy in "I Could Go On Singing" on the Palladium stage.

It is also at the London Palladium, in May 1962, that Garland filmed key sequences for what would become her final picture, I Could Go On Singing, performing the overture and introduction to “Hello, Bluebird,” and the title track, on the Palladium stage before a live audience. Two years later, on 8 and 16 November, it was there that Judy and her daughter, Liza Minnelli, for the first time, gave a joint concert, later released as Judy Garland And Liza Minnelli: “Live” At The London Palladium.

Judy Garland on "Sunday Night at The London Palladium"

Five years later, on 19 January 1969, Judy Garland would perform at the London Palladium for the final time, on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Serving as a replacement for an ailing Lena Horne, Judy’s performance that night was broadcast live on British television, and would be her last television appearance. She was dead just over five months later, not more than a few minutes from the theatre.

Judy Garland has now been gone for nearly forty two years, and yet, she is never far away. On the most recent Royal Variety Performance, on 9 December 2010, again held at the London Palladium, Michael Crawford told of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s massive undertaking in staging The Wizard of Oz for the Palladium. Crawford, known the world over for originating the titular role of The Phantom of the Opera, will be doing the same in Oz. He went on to introduce a massive group of lively school children, who sang a medley of songs from the film, before they were replaced by the singular figure of Danielle Hope dressed (in a nearly screen-accurate recreation of Garland’s costume) as Dorothy, to sing, of course, “Over the Rainbow.”

Garland herself often expressed genuine gratitude for the fame she won from The Wizard of Oz and delight at having been Dorothy.

Danielle Hope (as Dorothy)

She realized the song itself was “sacred,” concluding, “I don’t want anybody, anywhere to lose the thing they have about Dorothy and that song.”

I, for one, will be there on 1 March 2011, along with the press and the famous, on the official opening night of the musical, to see what Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice, and their collaborators have wrought. But somehow, in seeing so many children singing along to the songs she helped make famous, more than seventy years ago, on the very stage were she effectively reinvented her career, I feel Judy Garland would be overjoyed to see her legacy continue right there at The London Palladium.

I’ve said several times, if it were possible to go back in time, I would be happy to go to the past for a single day, for a brief three hours. Sunday, April 23, 1961. Carnegie Hall. 8:30pm.

Now, while that statement is still true, and always will be, in some ways, I feel I have some idea what that night must have been like for the nearly three thousand lucky attendants who were there for ‘Judy at Carnegie Hall’. Last night, I had the pleasure to see Tracie Bennett in ‘End of the Rainbow’ in which she portrays Judy Garland; although channels seems more appropriate.

Stephen Hagan (Mickey Deans), Tracie Bennett (Judy Garland), and Hilton McRae (Anthony)

Bennett is accompanied by a tiny supporting cast of three, portraying Mickey Deans, Judy’s soon-to-be fifth husband (Stephen Hagan), her gay Scottish pianist Anthony (Hilton McRae), and Robin Browne as a BBC interviewer, hotel porter, and assistant stage manager.

The play takes place in December 1968; Judy is in London with Deans for her five-week run at the Talk of the Town, with the entirety of the play occurring in either the couple’s hotel suite, or the Talk of the Town stage, isolating between her personal trials and public triumphs.

Tracie Bennett, as Judy, was simply… there are not superlatives enough. There are genuine bits of Judy Garland there, in body, voice, manner, and spirit. Throughout, Bennett does her own singing, and yet, she hits it every time. There is soon to be a cast recording released at the end of the month, and I, for one, will be snatching it up!

Tracie Bennett as Judy Garland

Bennet recreates Judy’s body language beautifully: the way she always hugged herself, picked at herself, played with her hair… the way she moves, always touching those around her… Unless you really know Judy Garland, you will have little idea what I mean, and yet, it’s all there. Bennett has clearly spent hour upon hour watching videos of Judy, and reproduced it down to the last detail! Even her costumes and hair seem to be taken directly from footage of Garland in her last few years, all her ensembles are exact replicas of those she wore in life. At one point she even wears a pair of shimmering red stiletto pumps, a subtle reference to her famous footwear.

Honestly, walking in, I was nervously excited, but still expected to be (despite a landslide of positive reviews) disappointed. After all, this is Judy we’re talking about! I’ve loved Judy since I was five, and I have insanely high standards. At first, I let my concerns get in the way of fully engaging with Bennett and the play, and yet, about twenty minutes into the show, as soon as she sang, I almost fainted.

Everything was there, her gestures, the way she always played with the microphone cord, the arms, the energy, the voice, everything. In the concert numbers, she addresses the audience as if they were the concert audience, and she really connects. At that point I honestly forgot it was Tracie Bennett. Despite myself, I saw Judy Garland, and it honestly freaked me out a little bit. It helped that I was near the middle of the theatre at the very front, at eye level with the performers, without a single audience member in my range of vision. In those concert moments, I almost felt like I needed to leave, like that was really Judy Garland up there, and it was almost too much to take, especially given the amount of eye contact she gives the audience!

The highlight of the play came as Judy, alone in the suite, sang ‘The Man that Got Away,’ while wandering around the suite, lounging on the floor, we see her racked with pain Garland herself couldn’t have not experienced, in a life of five husbands, two of which were gay. All, in their own way, must have loved her, or thought they did. But for Judy, in life, there seems to have often been confusion between loving her and wanting to protect her. Throughout the play Judy calls Mickey ‘my protector,’ and that may very well have been what she believed she needed, and yet while he does try to help her, he relents, as must anyone dealing with an addict, ultimately protecting her from nothing, least of all herself.

While Mickey clearly is, at first, trying his best to get her off the medications and alcohol, eventually he relents, both so she isn’t in pain for a few brief moments, and seemingly more importantly, so she can go back out on stage, in an effort to ease some of her debts. (Garland would, in fact, die almost $4 million in debt.) Only later do we see her continue to struggle, dealing with the ensuing upset and illness the medications must have caused again and again, despite everyone’s efforts.

Let me be clear here, the private moments of the play were really painful to watch; there were even moments when I didn’t know if I could stay for the duration. There were moments that had me crying throughout. Let me say here, I get exasperatedly angry when anyone calls Judy Garland’s life a “tragedy.” Yes, she had her problems, she was addicted to the pills, and there is no denying that. Whose fault was it? Metro? Ethel (Judy’s mother)?  Judy herself? These are questions without answers. Throughout the play Judy, of course, makes her own accusations, as I’m sure she did in life. Yet, what also seems to be present here, while she struggles, she never loses her sense of humor about it all.

Throughout the play, there are moments played for comedy, showing the lengths Judy would go to in order to avoid the hotel bill, acquire medications, and escape Mickey’s supervision and yet, they are always tinged with the reality of her pain. She is never made out to be anything more or less than she was, a human being trying to survive. Yet, those comedic moments – while needed to alleviate the pain – at times really made me angry. Yet, even Judy, I think, would have tried to find the humor, with her naughty sense of humor and genuine sense of fun, so maybe it’s all right. I honestly don’t know.

At Judy’s side is also her pianist, Anthony. I honestly don’t know if he is based on a real person, but throughout, he is the person I felt really pulling for Judy. Even after Mickey relents with the medication we see Anthony struggling to pick up the pieces and help her. After she has downed the latest dose of medication, he tries to refuse to accompany her on stage, in a last ditch effort to make it all stop. But, eventually, she persuades him, as she must have done in life. She could get anyone to do anything for her, and not always for the better!

Near the last moments of the play we see he and Judy imagining a future in which she could leave Mickey and go with Anthony, move to Brighton, and abandon show business. For a moment we are allowed to envision an alternate future of an unburdened, and clean, Judy Garland living out her life, carefree, on the south coast.

Here the play leaves us, with Anthony giving a brief epilogue, telling of Judy’s brief marriage, death, and funeral, followed by Bennett’s haunting rendition of the second half or so of ‘Over the Rainbow,’ reminding us, that, despite it all, Judy Garland is still very much with us. She is Dorothy, and she always will be. Judy’s final words are these, “Immortality would be nice. Yes I’d like that. Immortality might just make up for everything.” While the hardships she endured can never be erased, I like to think she would be pleased to know that over forty years after her death, while many may not know her name, people of every age, still hold Dorothy close to their hearts, and as long as they do, she is still, very much, with us.