Daryl Nitz thinks the time has come to celebrate one of the most unforgettable entertainers, as June 10 would have been Judy Garland’s centenary.
To mark the occasion, Nitz asked half a dozen of the Chicago area’s most notable cabaret artists to join in a musical evening to “Get Happy!” Judy Garland’s 100th” June 5 at the Skokie Theater.
“This is the first time I’ve done a Judy Garland show that isn’t related to her show at Carnegie Hall,” said the veteran producer and cabaret show manager. Nitz noted that he had produced shows based on this concert half a dozen times since 2004, when his concert at Garland Carnegie Hall was the first show he had ever produced.
Nitz loves that the centennial celebration will include songs that weren’t in Garland’s famous concert at Carnegie Hall.
“It’s a different approach to his music,” Nitz said.
In addition to hosting the show, Nitz will sing “If Love Were All”, “After You’re Gone” and “When You’re Smiling”.
To serve as musical director, Nitz chose Ester Hana, with whom he hosts a weekly musical evening at The Piano in Chicago.
“For many years I loved his songs,” Hana said of Garland. “I loved her voice a lot, especially when she was young. She performed so many songs.
The interpreter was moved by certain aspects of Garland’s life. “I remember how sad it was that these stars were molded and removed from a normal childhood – and that’s what happened to her,” Hana said. “She was very vulnerable. She showed her heart.
In addition to accompanying the other performers, Hana will sing “Señorita Nina” and perform a duet with Nitz on a medley of “La Cage aux Folles”.
The cast includes Laura Freeman, Kimberly Gordon, Sophie Grimm, Lynne Jordan and Frieda Lee. The singers chose some of their own songs; Nitz suggested others.
“There’s a moment on ‘The Judy Garland Show’ where she sings ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ because of the assassination of John F. Kennedy,” Nitz noted. “I asked Frieda (Lee) if she would do it, and she agreed.”
Nitz reported that Lee had moved to Los Angeles and was flying to do the show. She told him, “If I can make it work, I’ll do whatever show you put on,” Nitz recounted.
Grimm said that as a singer, she is inspired by what Garland stands for. “There will always be a struggle and we can always shine through that struggle,” Grimm said.
The singer noted that the movie “Babes in Arms” was her first experience seeing Garland. “The idea that they wanted to put on a show and she’s the one getting in on it with a friend and rallying the troops – I love that in the movie; I loved that about her,” Grimm recalled.
Grimm will sing “Embraceable You,” a mix of “Annie Get Your Gun” and “Stormy Weather.”
“I was hugely influenced by Judy Garland as a kid,” Gordon said. “She was one of my first musical idols. It was her and Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf tied for first place. I started listening to albums when I was three or four. And was moved, of course, by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Gordon noted that she was allowed to purchase one album each month “and Judy Garland was on the list”.
The singer believes Garland was an icon because “in addition to her talent and reach, she wore her heart on her sleeve musically and the people connected to it”.
Gordon will sing “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart”, “You Made Me Love You” and “Happiness is Just a Thing Called Joe”.
Gordon concluded that it will be a wonderful show because “Daryl Nitz has a way of producing a show that creates a friendly and emotional experience for everyone on stage and in the audience. And, of course, the lovely ladies I plays are out of this world.
‘Become happy! Judy Garland’s 100th
When: 7 p.m. June 5
Or: Skokie Theater, 7924 Lincoln Ave, Skokie
Information: 847-677-7761; skokietheatre.org/get-happy.html
Myrna Petlicki is a freelance journalist for Pioneer Press.