Judy Garland and Friends (1992)

Genres - Musical  |   Sub-Genres - Variety Show [TV]  |   Run Time - 60 min.  |   Countries - United States  |  
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Review by Brian J. Dillard

With its emphasis on famous duets and its minimum of between-song business, Judy Garland: Judy Garland and Friends provides an accessible introduction to the uneven but brilliant variety show Garland hosted in the mid-'60s. The rendition of "There's No Business Like Show Business" by Garland, Barbra Streisand, and Ethel Merman unites three generations of musical comedy royalty; unfortunately, Merman's aging vibrato is so strong that she nearly drowns out the considerable talents of her big-voiced cohorts. Still, there's plenty of camp appeal in the stagey banter between the performers, and real beauty lurks in the other Streisand material. With her pageboy haircut and Egyptian eyeliner, Streisand was still in her humble but regal early phase; aloof yet likable, she sings "Down With Love" and "Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered" like she means it. The Liza Minnelli whom television audiences met on her mother's show was far more girlish than the androgynous libertine of Cabaret and Arthur, but the nervous energy between Minnelli and her mother speaks volumes. None of her songs amaze, but the footage makes a fascinating history lesson. The idea behind The Judy Garland Show was to give its troubled star a showcase without forcing her to carry the entire program herself. But as the many solo numbers collected here reveals, this was a performer whose problems with drugs and alcohol did little to diminish her singular gifts. "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" flirts with the famous Garland metaphor without giving in to Wizard of Oz nostalgia, while The Man That Got Away delivers those reliable, melancholy goose pimples. Modern audiences who dismiss Garland as a gay-liberation punch line or an ancient tabloid headline probably haven't seen these performances -- but should.