Among icons, it’s not bowls of green M&Ms, closetfuls of shoes, or fistfights with paparazzi that make a star. Judy Garland showed that being oneself is the surest way to connect with fans. Kim Roberts, a recognized Judy Garland impersonator and star of the show The Judy Monologues now returns to the stage with The Get Happy Hour with Judy, a play that reimagines Judy Garland’s real-life failed comeback tv project in the way she would have wanted it to be.
Roberts explains the show’s premise. “It’s a reconnection with Judy Garland and what fans love about her. It’s not the typically over-amplified story of drug or alcohol abuse.”
The show focus on why fans love Garland. “She faced adversity and picked herself up and kept on going,” says Roberts, “She was so approachable, so endearing. She made herself vulnerable on stage, and was real to people. She rose above all that was going on in the world. She’s also got that sense of humour, very self-effacing. And also her way of really keeping at it. The self-discovery, the trying out more. She had five marriages and didn’t stop believing in love. She tried everything – film, stage, television. For the fans it was a big part of that was that she made herself so available. Heart, mind, and soul, she was so available. They felt like she was really approachable, and that they knew her. What you saw is what you got.”
Roberts created the show in response to the overwhelming fan support she received from her appearances as Judy Garland. “They’re so passionate,” she says. “This show is for them to spend more time with her.”
Garland was more than just a diva, according to Roberts. She talks about the Judy Garland off-camera who did charitable work and loved her family, as well as her struggle with her interfering stage mother Ethel Marion. “She went to hospitals to see veterans. She did USO tours with many other stars. I think the bigger thing for me is about her raising her kids. Despite the childhood that she had with her mother, Garland ensured that she wasn’t compromised in her scheduling or even when going through bad times with drugs, she would make the very most out of it, because she wanted good memories for her kids.”
One particular moment that stands out to Roberts is when Garland stood up to her own mother in defense of her daughter, Liza Minnelli. “It was a pivotal moment for her kids, and with her mother. [Garland] never stood up to her mother, except when her mother started to make plans for Liza and put Liza into that same machine that Judy was in. It was at that moment that Judy said “No, not any more. This stops here.” There was a big row between them. It was very controversial and a bad breakup between them. Judy was not there when her mother died.”
Talking about Judy Garland inevitably brings up Garland’s emblematic place in the gay community. Garland is known for accepting her fans – gay or straight – without question, something very rare in the 20th century. “I’ve seen interviews of her where she was chastised for having a fan base with a lot of the gays and she’s like I don’t care who likes me as long as they like my music.” This statement endeared Garland to the hearts of many.
Roberts grew up in conservative Midwestern America and didn’t know much about the history of gay rights before performing as a double. Through the fans, she learned how Judy Garland’s death may have sparked the Stonewall riots. The funeral of Judy Garland took place the same day as the famed riots. “There are two camps about the Stonewall riots,” says Roberts. “One said it was a coincidence that they happened at the same day, another says they are related. She was an ally; that was the striking thing. One I learned that, it all made sense. The rainbow and the ‘Friends of Dorothy’ make sense. I feel especially privileged to represent her, having that knowledge and understanding.”
Roberts has many stories about Garland as well as how being Judy Garland resulted in some incredible experiences that include posing with a hundred naked men at Toronto’s Gay Pride Parade. She even had the chance to try on a pair of the ruby slippers from the Wizard Oz. Interestingly enough, they aren’t the ones that Garland wore, but the ones Garland’s Wizard of Oz double did. “Judy Garland is a size and a half smaller than me,” says Robert. “But these shoes fit me perfectly. I have the same shoe size as the double. None of that would have happened had I not travelled down this yellow brick road with Judy.”
Roberts mostly wants the fans to know that The Get Happy Hour with Judy Garland is for them. Roberts has seen people of all ages, colours, and origin fall in love with Garland. “I want people to see the show and know that I mean it with my heart that this is their show,” says Roberts. “I hope that they will find it their own vehicle to spend more time with Judy.”
The Get Happy Hour with Judy Garland runs at Theatre St. Cathrine (264 St. Catherine E) June 4 and 5. 8 p.m. $20/25. Roberts is also launching a Kickstarter campaign in support of touring the show. Date TBD.