By ANNE SIEGEL
(MILWAUKEE, WI.) – The most surprising thing about Get Happy: Angela Ingersoll Sings Judy Garland is that the Milwaukee Repertory Theater has taken so long to bring this show to town.
The Rep has the perfect venue for this show: the intimate Stackner Cabaret, with its nightclub-style atmosphere that has audiences sitting at small tables in a dark room, each table lit by a small artificial votive candle. Audience members can order drinks and dessert before the show or at intermission.
As if to accentuate the lounge vibe, the show’s set consists of nothing more than a solid-black curtain, which is sometimes brightened with a glow of color (lighting by Aaron Lichamer).
Get Happy is a jolly trolley ride from start to finish – at least when this “Judy” impersonator is singing her hits. Things are far less rosy when impersonator Angela Ingersoll discusses episodes from Judy’s personal life and career.
Just as Judy Garland would have done in concert prior to her untimely death, the Chicago-based Ingersoll clutches a wireless microphone and sings directly to the audience. Her numerous songs are interspersed with brief autobiographical snippets about Garland’s life. She also discusses her own life, and the manner in which she eventually became a “stand-in” for Garland.
Ingersoll’s appearance, energy and vocal abilities should please the most demanding Judy Garland fans. Does she have the right look, the right moves and voice? Oh, yes.
Ingersoll has appeared in several productions of End of the Rainbow, a play which chronicles Judy’s final days in London. (Milwaukee Repertory Theatre produced this show in its largest theater during its 2013-14 season. It starred the late Hollis Resnick.) Ingersoll’s performances in Rainbow earned her the prestigious Jeff Award in Chicago (2016), and she was named the L.A. Times Woman of the Year in Theatre. A PBS-TV show featuring Ingersoll as Judy Garland in concert was nominated for an Emmy Award.
Back in the Stackner Cabaret, Ingersoll’s early song, “I Got Rhythm,” is belted out with the power of Ethel Merman, the actor who first made this 1930 Gershwin tune a hit on Broadway. A bit later, Ingersoll enchants with the 1913 Harry James’ ballad “You Made Me Love You.” The song is somewhat ironic for a woman who had five husbands, as Garland did.
Ingersoll does an excellent job of varying her material. Vibrant, upbeat songs such as “The Trolley Song” are nicely balanced with those that feature a more melancholy tinge. Some of these are “The Man That Got Away,” which Judy Garland sang in the 1954 film remake “A Star is Born,” as well as the 1933 classic torch song, “Stormy Weather,” written by Harold Arlen. Ingersoll has no difficulty replicating Garland’s deep vibrato.
Instead of stepping away for costume changes, Ingersoll excuses herself and slips into a curtained booth onstage. Her head peeks out so that she can still talk to the audience while changing costumes. The costumes get slinkier and glitterier during the performance. A personal favorite gown is a long white column, which makes Ingersoll look taller. At five feet, she is almost exactly the same height as Garland.
Ingersoll is a firecracker onstage. Even when a song temporarily switches into instrumental mode, Ingersoll is still clearly into the music. She twirls, shimmies and bobs around the stage as she interacts with the excellent back-up trio.
Two of the players on opening night, pianist Chuck Larkin and percussionist Charles Heath, arrived with Ingersoll from the Chicago area. The bass player, Jeff Hamann, is from Milwaukee. Together, they deliver a joyful, sometimes poignant evening.
Anyone who has the slightest interest in Judy Garland should not wait to buy tickets to this show. And when Ingersoll sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” near the show’s finale, don’t be surprised to find a lump in your throat.
Get Happy: Angela Ingersoll Sings Judy Garland (2 hours) continues through July 1 at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, 108 E. Wells St., Milwaukee, WI. Starting May 15, Jeremy Kahn will perform on the piano. For tickets and information, visit milwaukeerep.com, or call 414-290-0702.