PORTLAND – The Old Port Playhouse opened its summer season Friday with an intimate glimpse into the life and times of legendary performer Judy Garland.

“The Property Known as Garland,” written by Billy Van Zandt, stars Laura Hurd Whited as the dashing diva and Justin D. Stebbins as her stagehand, Ed. It’s primarily a one-woman play, with Stebbins providing comic punch as his character frantically tries to fulfill his idol’s every whim.

Watching a performer like Judy Garland on the big screen, it’s easy to forget that life wasn’t necessarily a yellow brick road for her. A vaudeville performer at age 4 and a movie star at 13, Garland lived a life that was never really her own.

Ava Gardner reportedly told her, “We’re the only merchandise that gets to leave the store at night.” In other words, they were the property of the studio.

Although adored by throngs of fans, Garland suffered from low self-esteem. The studio fueled her insecurities, ultimately leading to her addiction to diet and sleeping pills. And, by her untimely death at age 47, Garland had been married five times and attempted suicide on more than one occasion.

The play is set in Copenhagen in 1969, the year of Garland’s death. It’s her final concert, and she’s backstage trying to muster the will to perform. She begins reminiscing about her life, and the members of the audience become her private confidants.

Whited is superb as Judy Garland, not only tugging at the heartstrings with her performance but also capturing Garland’s fiery spirit.

With Garland-like caustic wit, Whited quips about the studio buying her a “$600 ass” to fill out her dresses, confides the “real” meaning of the studio’s initials, “MGM,” and tells the audience that everyone in Hollywood took pills, even Rin Tin Tin.

Loving reminiscences about Garland’s children and comic tales of an arrow mishap in one of Orson Welles’ productions and drunken Munchkins on the set of “The Wizard of Oz” are interspersed amongst the more tragic events, nicely capturing the tragicomedy of Garland’s life.

Throughout the play, voice-overs from director Michael J. Tobin and real-life audio clips of Garland add to the poignancy of the production.

Those who love the music of Judy Garland are in for a treat at the end of the production. After all, Garland is preparing for her last concert, and Whited is up for the challenge.

The Old Port Playhouse’s rendition of “The Property Known as Garland” is a moving tribute to a memorable performer. And, with June being the anniversary of both Garland’s birth and death, audiences couldn’t ask for a better way to usher in the playhouse’s summer season. 

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]


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