Melanie Gall’s Ingenue: Deanna Durbin, Judy Garland and the Golden Age of Hollywood, tells the true story of Durbin’s life growing up in Hollywood, her relationship with Judy Garland, which the world wanted so much to be filled with mutual hate, and why she gave it all up in favour of a life of obscurity in Paris.
A one woman musical, the show opens with Durbin (Melanie Gall) sitting in her simply furnished Parisian home in a floral housecoat, singing to herself. She is surprised when a knock on the door results in the arrival of a journalist from the New York Times, who wants to interview her in the wake of Judy Garland’s death and get the dirt on their tempestuous relationship.
Durbin maintains that her and Judy were in fact friends, and reluctantly agrees to tell their story as the journalist will clearly write it, with or without her, so she would rather she prints something along the lines of the truth.
The real Durbin was very protective of her privacy after leaving Hollywood, and the absence of anyone actually playing the journalist, gives the piece a nice hallucinatory quality, casting doubt on whether there is anyone actually conducting the interview or if Garland’s passing has prompted an afternoon of recollection and Durbin is in fact only musing to herself. This is emphasised by some of the revelations about her personal life which it seems unlikely Durbin would have opened up about to the media.
This feeling is enhanced by the slightly distorted offstage voices of other people throughout Durbin’s life such as Nate Blumberg. Gall’s wide-eyed stare up towards these unseen lofty figures who controlled her destiny creates both a sense of the problems with Hollywood and her getting lost within her own long forgotten memories.
The songs throughout the show emphasise the mood of the piece which is supported by Gall’s excellent characterisation and performance of the role. The musical style of old Hollywood, combining childlike innocence with disturbing darkness creates a good backdrop to the story and the unsettling world Durbin is remembering.
As Durbin and Garland’s careers both progress with differing levels of success, the two young actors drift apart. Deanna has her own house built on the studio’s grounds, while Judy has a drug problem. Both women become a beacon of hope and support for the troops while Hollywood continues to sparkle against the backdrop of a world at war, but never, much to Durbin’s regret, work together during this time.
This is a beautiful piece of theatre which contrasts the glitz and glam of Hollywood with the dark reality of growing up as a child star and what happens when you become too old to be everyone’s favourite daughter. Bittersweet, a misty eyed Gall reflects on Durbin’s happy life, which like everyone else’s, was sprinkled with a few mistakes, and all the iconic Judy Garland ever did wrong, was make a few mistakes, just like everyone else.
Ingenue: Deanna Durbin, Judy Garland and the Golden Age of Hollywood is being streamed on Online @theSpaceUK until 31st January 2021 https://online.thespaceuk.com/show/ingenie-deanna-durbin-judy-garland-and-the-golden-age-of-hollywood
Reviewer: Donna M Day
Reviewed: 8th January 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★