GOODSPEED MUSICALS IS BUSY "CHASING RAINBOWS"


BONNIE GOLDBERG

Dorothy and her puppy Toto are iconic figures in motion picture legend. Her journey from a farm house in Kansas all the way to the Land of Oz in the Emerald City, via a yellow brick road, is one millions have traveled with her. Judy Garland, the little girl with the booming voice, achieved stardom with her incredible role as Dorothy and now Goodspeed Musicals is anxious to reveal just how it happened, from now until Sunday, November 27.

Before the scarecrow, the lion and the tin man, before Glinda the good witch and the wicked witch of the West, before the magical and all powerful Oz, there was a little girl from Minnesota named Frances Gumm, a tot with big dreams.

Born into a show business family, Frances was part of the Gumm Sisters in vaudeville, beginning her career at the tender age of 2 and 1/2. The idea of telling Frances' story, how she was transformed into Judy Garland, was the brain child of Tina Marie Casamento Libby. Knowing that Judy's story was told in her music, Libby has spent the last seven years developing her idea, revealing the child who wanted to be a star, all the way to her securing the coveted role of Dorothy.

"Chasing Rainbows Judy Garland's road to Oz" has a book by Marc Acito and music adapted by David Libby. First we meet an adorably lit Frances, a bright button named Ella Briggs who grows before our eyes into a spark plug of a teenager Ruby Rakos. She is daddy's little love and the mutual admiration society she develops with dad Frank, a wonderfully expressive Kevin Earley, is a delight to behold.

With her mom (Sally Wilbert) and sisters Virginia (Piper Birney and later Andrea Laxton) and Mary Jane (Claire Griffin and later Lucy Horton), we watch Frances polish her performances until she is ready to strike out on her own. With the Depression a dark shadow and her dad not able to support the family, it fell to Judy to earn a $100 a week to keep them together.

Off to Hollywood, she is "discovered" by Kay Koverman, an enterprising Karen Mason and pianist Roger Edens, an encouraging Gary Milner, who bring her to the attention of the tough minded head of M.G.M., Louis B. Mayer, a gruff Michael McCormick. As the studio head, L. B. Mayer calls his new young star not pretty or thin enough, but her fan club that includes Mickey Rooney (Michael Wartella) and Clark Gable (Danny Lindgren) prevails.

Wonderful tunes like "Over the Rainbow," "I Cant Give You Anything But Love," "You Made Me Love You" and "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart" keep the story a pure delight. Tyne Rataeli leads this personal tale of will and perseverance down the yellow brick road, through rain clouds, to bluebirds of happiness.

For tickets, call Goodspeed Musicals, on the CT River, in Wast Haddam (exit 7 off route 9) at 860-873-8668 or online at www.godspeed.com. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.  Shows Thanksgiving week are 11/21 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., 11/25 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., 11/26 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and 11/27 at 2p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Watch Judy Garland of the big voice and big heart earn her ruby slippers through a lot of perseverance and a little bit of luck.

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