judy head

POPULAR actress Lisa Maxwell will be right at home in Malvern this week – literally - commuting daily from her Cotswolds home to the theatre where she is playing the lead role of Judy Garland in Peter Quilter’s hit musical drama End of the Rainbow.

She needs the tranquillity of the beautiful countryside to relax after gripping performances of this brilliant but hugely challenging play-with-music which focuses on the final days of a once glittering star . . . and there’s no place like home.

Lisa, who made her name in TV’s The Bill and Loose Women, explained the highs and lows of the drama, set in the swinging sixties, when I met her after a matinee performance at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre.

“It’s a wonderful play, and a great opportunity for me to show off a bit,” she chuckled. “It is a difficult role, but it’s worth it because any actor wants something they can get their teeth into, and this is definitely one of those.

“The fact that I get to sing and to play the complete woman is what’s really interesting, because we are familiar with seeing Judy Garland on stage in certain things, and the whole show is set in London where she is playing a six-week season, so I get to perform as her on stage.

“But what really interests me is what’s she’s like off stage, and I think people have really taken to the idea and warmed to the fact that she, bless her, wanted to live a totally different life, I think.”

Lisa admits coming to the project reluctantly, initially, because she knew how hard it would be . . . a mountain to climb, and she didn’t think she could do it. But she recalled: “They told me to get round a piano, see how I would feel, and they brought this wonderful vocal coach along who gave me confidence, becausLisa as Judye I hadn’t sung for 16 years.

“So I thought ‘oh, that went quite well’ maybe I could do it. We worked together for a bit, and I took on the responsibility of trying to be Judy Garland . . . and this is a role I didn’t want to do ‘badly’ because she is an absolute legend to me.

'There’s nowhere to hide, so it is very demanding'
- Lisa Maxwell

“It’s also singing as Judy Garland . . . it’s not just singing. You can’t just go out there and just sing the way you like to sing, you have to sing in a style, and a very familiar style to everyone sat out there. There’s nowhere to hide, so it is very demanding, and I haven’t had a drink since Christmas Day.”

There is some strong language in the play when Judy is battling with drink and drugs and at times is reluctant to go on stage at The Talk of the Town, and it may shock some people.

Lisa explained: “She was probably more clean cut in her early years, but as life moved on she was very much ‘one of the boys’ who would go out with the Rat Pack and hold her own drinking wise.

“You can’t do a play about Judy Garland without song, and you can’t do a play about Judy Garland towards the end of her life without showing the fact that she was a raucous old bird at times, but she is so funny, and some of the lines (in the play) are just ridiculously funny, so quick witted.

“You do get an ‘ooooohhh’ from the audience, especially about one particular word I say about ten minutes into the play, and it’s probably the worst word in the whole play, but once you’ve got that out of the way it settles down a bit. But I think they are a bit shocked at first.”

Some of the powerful scenes in her suite at The Ritz and on stage at The Talk of the Town, with a drug, booze and sex-charged pumped up Judy letting fly have the audience holding their breath, and Lisa says: “It’s a challenge for anyone to play this role and to get the songs, comedy and tragedy right, and I’m exhausted at the end of the show.

“She was a woman in her 40s – a legendary Hollywood star – who just wanted the love of one man. I just wish she had found someone and she could have lived happily ever after.”.

Lisa has great support in the play from Gary Wilmot, playing her loyal accompanist, and Sam Attwater, her much younger fiancé at the explosive six-week comeback run in London.

But it’s easy to understand why she needs the tranquillity of her Cotswolds home to recover from the enormous pressure of the show, even though she clearly loves singing memorable hits like The Man That got Away, Come Rain Or Come Shine, The Trolley Song, and, of course, Over the Rainbow.

Paul Marston 

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