Judy Garland in concert, courtesy of technology and Boston Pops
Judy Garland has been gone for almost 40 years, but her legacy as a performer continues to outshine even the tragedy of her life. And as technology has come along in the past decade or so, so have the number of remasters and other preservation projects dedicated to her expansive recorded oeuvre.
But the latest major Garland project, "Judy Garland in Concert with the Boston Pops,'' looks to achieve a sort of synergy between archive recorded material and live accompaniment that Garland’s rich catalog has never yet known. And it will premiere with the Pops as its backing orchestra, Friday and Saturday at Symphony Hall.
"I worked for (Garland’s third husband) Sid Luft in the ’80s,'' said the show’s creative supervisor, John Fricke. "And back then we always wanted to do this sort of thing with Judy on screen and a live orchestra. But the technology at the time just wasn’t hip enough or feasible enough.''
The show presents 27 classics of live Judy Garland – the actual Garland in recorded TV series and special appearances, singing as she did then, with a live accompaniment from the Boston Pops orchestra. As Fricke explained, a seamless presentation of video and live orchestration depends on cutting-edge voice isolation and audio effects. The chosen material, whose selection was Fricke’s, will incorporate multiple onstage screens and home movies, photographs and Garland interviews along with the musical portraiture.
"We didn’t want it to be an orchestra accompanying an orchestra accompanying Judy,'' Fricke explained. "It’s been like a million-piece jigsaw puzzle – audio, interstitial digitalizing in the moments between songs, everything. I can’t overstate how many people it takes to bring this off.''
And why the Pops for the premiere? Well, Garland did have a history of great shows in Boston. In August 1967 she performed for free on Boston Common to more than 108,000 people.
"Who better?'' Fricke states. "It’s really a go-for-broke situation. It’s the kind of thing where you get the most visibility with people in the (Boston) audience who decide that this needs to be seen in other places.
"It’s a chronology through her life, but it’s not meant to be a biography. It’s meant to be a concert,'' he added. "And it’s such a joy. I’ve been a fan of Judy’s for more than 50 years, and have been given a lot of opportunity to do all this stuff. I always say I’m glad I fell in love with Judy Garland when I was young and not Connie Francis.''
Fricke, 57, turned early love of Garland’s work into a career of meticulous scholarship of her legacy. He is widely acknowledged as the country’s foremost Judy Garland author and historian, and copped a 2004 Emmy for his work on "Judy Garland: By Myself,'' an installment of PBS’ American Masters program. He’s published a number of books on Garland, including 2003’s "Judy Garland: A Portrait of Art and Anecdote,'' and also consults and does audio commentaries for remastered DVDs of Garland’s movies for MGM studios.
An unabashed Garland fanatic with infectious enthusiasm for his craft, Fricke fondly recalls the night The Beatles famously played the Ed Sullivan Show – but not for that reason.
"I was so excited that there was a new Judy Garland series after the Beatles were on,'' he said, laughing. "I was age 12, but I remember thinking that, and (her music) is just what I glommed onto. It was old music, but I was hearing it for the first time so it all felt new to me.''
Is there any corner of the Garland legacy he’s still waiting to mine for source material?
"Well, this (project) is as much of a theatrical experience as you’re going to get,'' he said. "I’ve been approached a number of times to write a stage show but I’d never want to see anyone ‘do’ Judy. There’s so much actual Judy Garland available, and so much of what she did is just untouchable in its quality. When you saw her, you went to be with Judy Garland – she was not a cool performer, and it was that kind of an emotional experience.''
The Patriot Ledger