Natalie Douglas: Tributes: Judy

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Natalie Douglas

Tributes: Judy

Birdland, NYC, June 24, 2019

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Natalie Douglas
Photo: Kevin Alvey

What a combo! Natalie Douglas and Judy Garland, two different personalities but both storytellers loaded with emotion, vocal range, and an extraordinary sensitivity to interpret songs, diving right to their hearts. Garland’s classic songs were at times wistful, romantic, joyous, and heartbreaking. Natalie Douglas presented it all in her “Pride Week Tribute” which, of course, was a perfect time to salute this star of stars. 

While Douglas did not impersonate her, Garland’s spirit was present throughout the evening. Garland spoke to feelings, not intellect; she was inspiring. Douglas, a charismatic mix of chatty joy and authority, gave us her own open heart and extraordinary vocal range.
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Along with her long-time crackerjack music director/pianist, Mark Hartman, she skillfully delivered the familiar arrangements that accompanied Garland. A multifaceted backup band included Shirazette Tinnin on drums, Saadi Zain on bass, David Ashton on reeds, and Jim Lutz on trombone.

How do you choose which Judy Garland songs to sing in a tribute?  It can’t be the entire songbook (“She recorded everything!). But Douglas’ tribute included 15 selections that are Garland favorites. Well-represented was composer Harold Arlen; the show opened with an exuberant presentation of his “Get Happy” (with Ted Koehler), described by Arlen as a “rhythm song with the feel of a spiritual,” and closed with Garland’s signature song, “Over the Rainbow” (E.Y. Harburg). In between were some Arlen torch songs. Douglas was outstanding on “Stormy Weather” (Koehler), her warm alto throaty with long lines of despair; “The Man That Got Away” (Ira Gershwin), and “Come Rain or Come Shine” (Johnny Mercer). Douglas delved into her songs with color and nuance, often ending with tears, and with ours as well. 

She switched images, her voice lighter and brighter as she recalled the earnest crush of a starstruck teenager gazing at a movie star’s photo and singing “Dear Mr. Gable” (“You Made Me Love You”) (James V. Monaco/Joseph McCarthy). With Roger Edens’ swooning teen comments, the rendition was really more sweet than sappy.
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Also from a Garland film, Andy Hardy Meets Debutante, was “Nobody’s Baby” (Milton Ager/Benny Davis/Lester Santly), sung with Edens’ lyric additions for Garland.

Hartman joined Douglas for Irving Berlin’s jaunty “A Couple of Swells” and after a stumble with “Smile” (John Turner/Geoffrey Parsons/Charlie Chaplin), Douglas and the band delivered the breathless complexity of “The Trolley Song.” Douglas’ thoughtful rendition of “It Never Was You” (Kurt Weill/Maxwell Anderson) was stirring. Songwriters Melissa Manchester and Carole Bayer Sager’s “Come in from the Rain” was their Judy Garland-type song written after Garland’s death in June 1969.

The show ended with “By Myself” (Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz) and “Just in Time” (Jule Styne/Betty Comden/Adolph Green), both staples of the canon.

Douglas did not include the usual amount of patter that I always find informative, but perhaps choosing such inimitable songs with their memorable arrangements, delivered with Douglas passion and dedication, made up for it. If Judy Garland is no longer around to sing it, Natalie Douglas, one of cabaret’s most versatile and vocally sparkling singers, fortunately is.

Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.