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Angela Ingersoll salutes Judy Garland with an evening of song
by Catey Sullivan
2018-10-03

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Angela Ingersoll has a theory about the eternal impact of Judy Garland, especially within the LGBTQ+ community. "I think it has do with the unconditional love she showed. And her vulnerability," Ingersoll said. "Her concerts were a safe space. For the gay community, there weren't many of those in the 1960s. But at Judy's concerts, people could love who they wanted. They could express themselves."

Ingersoll tries to create that safe space when she performs Judy Garland: Come Rain or Come Shine, a roster of songs made famous by Judy and stories about the life of Judy Garland. Opening Oct. 5 at Nichols Hall in Evanston, Ingersoll's one-woman show runs through Oct. 14.

Unlike her Jeff Award-winning performance as Judy Garland in Peter Quilter's End of the Rainbow, Come Rain or Come Shine isn't Ingersoll-performing-as-Judy. If Rainbow was about Ingersoll's almost uncanny resemblance to Garland in both look and voice ( and meticulously recreated costumes from many of Garland's indelible roles ), Come Rain or Come Shine is about Ingersoll paying homage to her show business hero.

"With, 'Rainbow,' I play Judy. In 'Come Rain or Come Shine,' I walk on stage as me and start with, 'Hi, my name is Angela Ingersoll. My favorite singer of all time is Judy Garland,'" Ingersoll said.

Part of the production's homage, she added, is trying to ensure that each number is fully backed with the full emotional freight that Garland's voice carried.

"It's as much in the eyes as in the voice," said Ingersoll. "Judy was so available emotionally. She was this full cup of emotions who was dying to connect and be loved. That was almost her downfall in a way—she never quite learned how to feel complete in herself. But her search was reaching and heroic."

Ingersoll's path to worldwide acclaim for her Garland interpretations ( she's taken her shows to Europe as well as across the country ) was part pragmatic necessity, part wildly adventurous leap-of-faith.

"I've been compared to Judy all my life," Ingersoll said. "I've come out of playing Julie Jordan in 'Carousel' and people would be like 'You look just like Judy Garland.' And I'd say 'Do you mean Shirley Jones?' and they'd say, 'Nope. Judy Garland.'

"I have the small frame—she was 4'11, I'm 5'. I have the elfin features. The physical resemblance has always been there. But it wasn't until 2015 that I considered doing Judy's music," Ingersoll said. "That was when I finally got the courage to say 'I think I can do this justice.' It's an audacious thing to promise, but I promised."

Like most actors over 30, Ingersoll knows that the necessity of audacity increases with age. The more years beyond playing the likes of Julie Jordan, the more audacity you need in order to succeed in show business. "There's this threshold you cross somewhere in your 30s," said Ingersoll, 41. "You can't play the girl any more. You've become more of a woman—and people don't always know what to do with you."

Garland helped propel Ingersoll's career forward, even when others didn't quite know what to do with her. "I was coming to a point in my career where I wasn't getting the parts I wanted. I kept getting all these 'nos.' Now, I feel like all those 'nos' created the path to Judy," Ingersoll said.

"Judy Garland has been my guiding light for so long," she added. "In 'Come Rain or Come Shine,' I try to make her shine through me. I tell stories about her life, the chronology of ups and downs. And I tell personal stories about my life, and things Judy taught me both as a woman and an artist."

Over the years of specializing in Judy Garland, Ingersoll has occasionally worked with Garland's son Joey Luft. In 2017, Luft and Ingersoll teamed up at St. Charles' Arcada theater for a Mother's Day Salute to Garland. PBS later televised the event. "Joey has seen what I do, and he appreciates it," Ingersoll said. "So far, I haven't learn anything form Judy's daughters ( Lorna Luft and Liza Minnelli )."

Quilter's play can be "controversial," Ingersoll added, because of its depiction of Garland's struggles with addiction and her final concert in 1969.

"I can see where people would think telling that story might be exploitive," Ingersoll said. "But that's not what it's about. My hope is that Judy's story can help people find peace in their own pain. There are a lot of tears with my concerts, but there is joy as well.

"One of my family members struggled with addiction. I don't think I would be able to convey her story responsibly and with compassion without experiencing that in someone close to me. I feel uniquely equipped to understand what people go through with that," she said.

Like many, Ingersoll can't precisely remember when she first became cognizant of The Wizard of Oz and Garland's performance as Dorothy. "I can't recall a time when I was without her," Ingersoll said. The message in the 1930 movie has stayed with Ingersoll for a lifetime.

"Dorothy's journey to Oz is the story of someone who has to leave home in order to find home. And someone who finds themselves in this beautiful, colorful world where they can make their own path, write their own story. The symbolism is so beautiful: If society doesn't offer you a path, or accept the one you want, you go out and find your own," she said.

"You can't underestimate the power of Dorothy," Ingersoll added. "I was in Italy this year, working with a group of school kids—young, like 11 to 14. They all wanted to sing 'Over the Rainbow' with me. We're almost 80 years out from the movie, and these kids in Italy know every word of the song. That's the power of Judy."

Ingersoll's set list changes with each performance of Come Rain or Come Shine. "The show is constantly evolving, depending on who I'm with and where I'm performing" she said. "I did 'Meet me in St. Louis' for the St. Louis performance. When there's a holiday, I do holiday songs. Some songs are always in: "The Man Who Got Away.' 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow.' "

"When Judy sang, you could feel her love," Ingersoll said. "You wanted to give it back. That's what I'm trying to do too," she said.

Judy Garland: Come Rain or Come Shine runs Oct. 5 through Oct. 14 at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston. Tickets start at $34; visit angelaingersoll.com or musictheaterworks.com .


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