Holly sings Judy
On April 13, 2017, Orinda native, Holly Penfield took to the Vauxhall Tavern stage and created cabaret history. She made Judy Garlands songs her own, beautifully supported by Alex Hutton at the piano, Rob Wickenberg on bass and James Ingemells on drums. The evening was far more than a performance; it was a visceral experience for us all. “Watching Holly Penfield sing Judy Garland was something truly special. She doesn’t sing songs, she channels and inhabits them… she is humble, reverent, vulnerable and powerful. She is extraordinary, “ said Sarah Louise Young and there was not a single person in the audience that would not agree with her.
Holly Penfield becomes the music she sings; she lives every word. Her costumes are always spectacular and this show was no exception. She walked through the audience onto the stage in black and red with a high heel perched on the crown of her Easter bonnet. “Hit it, Alex” she said and so the show began. “My name is Judy; My name is Holly; Frankly I don’t know who the hell I am,” she says. We hear “I Belong to London” and “Easter Parade” a la Penfield and the truth is if Judy were alive today, she would die once more, this time of envy to hear Holly Penfield transform the very songs that once were signature Garland tunes into her own.
“I’m not doing an impersonation of Judy.” says Penfield. “A lot of people have done that. But it is because of Judy that I am a singer.” And then we heard “It’s Almost like Falling in Love” in a medley with “This Can’t Be Love.” interpreted as only Holly Penfield can.
Penfield creates a magic world that encompasses us all when she tells us that Garland was a star in the true sense of the word. “Judy Garland was looking for the feeling in her songs,” said Penfield. “She wanted to reflect the meaning, the anguish and the joy in each note.” Penfield linked the songs together with anecdotes that traced Garland’s rise to stardom and her eventual collapse. She gave us her unique take on the songs Garland sang with “Zing went the Strings of my Heart”, “When You’re Smiling”, “San Francisco, Open Your Golden Gates….all done in Penfield’s powerful style. When Holly Penfield is on stage, she has us all in the palm of her hand. We live her music because she becomes each song she sings. “Lets chat about Judy’s husbands. All of them were replacements for her father…” she says to lead into “Love Came Just in Time. “
The second act opened with Penfield dressed all in black because she wanted that section to reflect the darker side of Judy Garland’s life. “When she was twelve, MGM put her on a diet. They gave her pills to put her to sleep and uppers to wake up. But you can’t have the beauty without the beast,” said Penfield. “She was sustained by pills and alcohol and Judy said, ‘If I’m such a legend, why am I so lonely?’” This was the cue for a Penfield original: “Stay with Me”, a powerful plea for validation.
Listening to this very talented woman felt like we were in the midst of a tornado and an earthquake all at the same time. Each song left Penfield so emotionally drained that it felt like we were watching a train-wreck about to happen…but of course it never did. The show kept building as Penfield took us higher and higher into the pinnacle of the Garland mystique. The transitions were seamless and the audience was captivated. Penfield gave us “Get Happy”, ”Swanee”, “That’s Entertainment”. …. and every song brought cheers from the audience. Her lyrics were words made real; we felt the pain; we knew the anguish. We cried with her when she sang “The Man Who Got Away.” How could we not? Our hearts were broken too.
The finale had to be Garland’s signature song; the one we all ached to hear: ”Over the Rainbow.” But the audience was so charmed it would not let Penfield leave the stage. The encore was “I Could Sing ‘til the Cows Come Home” and then the spell was broken. It was time to return to reality. Holly Penfield gave us an unforgettable gift that night because she gave us herself. It was a privilege to be there for her performance. It was one, no one could possibly forget.