REVIEWS: Love From Judy

Love From Judy Review November 15, 2003
Reviewed by Martin Denton

Love from Judy is a musical comedy from 1952, written by Hugh Martin (music), Timothy Gray (lyrics and book), and Eric Maschwitz (book). Martin of course wrote Best Foot Forward and High Spirits and the film Meet Me In St. Louis; but this piece was entirely unfamiliar to me (and probably to most Americans: it has never been mounted in New York until now).

It's based on Daddy Long Legs, which as you may know tells the story of a young woman (here named Judy Abbott) who is rescued from an orphanage by a rich and handsome benefactor, Jervis Pendleton, who sends her to college but insists that he remain anonymous. Judy winds up rooming with Jervis' niece Julia, and so Jervis is able to observe his "ward" without her knowing who he is. She blossoms, and he falls in love with her. Luckily, she falls in love with him too, and so when he finally reveals himself to her, there's a happy ending.

It's a durable story, but it's slight and not enormously dramatic, so the creators pad it with two other pairs of lovers plus an oft-married older woman named Grace who serves as Judy's confidante and fairy godmother. There's also an African American character named Claudette whose function in the story remains cloudy throughout: her role reminded me of the one Carmen Miranda was required to play in all those Fox musicals in the '40s - an incongruous "other" who shows up to sing songs every once in a while.

Speaking of songs, Love from Judy's score proves to be charming though undistinguished. Martin and Gray solve the problem of having a main couple who can't sing a love song until the finale by giving them counterpoint soliloquies ("Dear Daddy Long Legs" and the title tune). The best numbers are comical ones - a character song for Grace called "It's Better Rich" and a socko piece for Judy and her fellow orphans in the first scene, "It's Great to Be an Orphan," that blows "It's a Hard Knock Life" from Annie out of the water. (The score has its share of duds, as well, namely a pair of Rodgers & Hammerstein knock-offs that fill time in the second act before the final clinch.)

This is a Musicals Tonight! production - where else would you see an obscure show like this? - which means that the cast is talented and effervescent, especially Vanessa Lemonides in the title role; a couple of chorus members - Andrew Rasmussen and Jenny Gelwick - also make strong impressions. Neither the best nor the worst of this series, it offers a chance to see a musical you won't see anywhere else while at the same time explaining why this London hit never ventured to these shores before.

Love From Judy in Concert
Back Stage November 28, 2003
Reviewed by Victor Gluck

How often does a London hit that runs two years not get transferred to Broadway? Musicals Tonight! departed from its usual procedure of giving concert stagings of famous but rarely revived musicals to present the North American premiere of Love From Judy, the 1952 London hit by the songwriting team of Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray, better known for Broadway’s later High Spirits. This utterly charming piece of authentic Americana is adapted from Jean Webster’s novel Daddy Long Legs, which also served as the basis for 20th Century Fox’s 1955 film starring Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron, which had a score by Johnny Mercer.

Love From Judy proves to be a delight in every category, from the true-to-the-period book by Eric Maschwitz and Gray, which offers three-dimensional characters one can care about, to the varied tunes by Martin - romantic ballads, patter songs, blues numbers, and square dances - all graced with Gray’s witty, colorful lyrics. Director Thomas Mills draws memorable performances from everyone, and his choreography, with additions by Vanessa Lemonides and Andrew Rasmussen, is delightful as well. James Stenborg’s musical direction makes the Victor Herbert-like score a positive joy.

Love From Judy tells the familiar story of the 18-year-old orphan who, given a chance to go to college by an anonymous benefactor, ends up falling in love with him, never guessing that she knows him as the uncle of her roommate. Stephen DeAngelis’ inspired casting offers the irrepressible Lemonides as titular orphan Judy Abbott; Julian Reboledo as Jervis, the repressed but stalwart guardian; Valerie A. Hill as the liberated Mrs. Pritchard, who brings the two together; Thursday Farrar as the impertinent and pert servant Claudette; Dana Zihlman as Sally, the blond bombshell on campus; Nicholas Dalton as her lovelorn brother Jimmy, who is smitten with Judy; Adrienne Pisoni as the stuck-up Julia; and Adam MacDonald as Gordon, the impossibly knowledgeable med student.

Love, From Judy finally crosses the pond November 17, 2003
Reviewed by Michael Dale

With a tuneful score by an American songwriting team, a story adapted from a popular American novel, a show stopping turn by a celebrated Harlem vocalist, an overnight star performance by its leading lady and a two year run in London you would think a New York transfer for the 1952 hit musical Love, From Judy would be inevitable. But sometimes the business of theatre makes the distance between the West End and Broadway seem an ocean wide. Fortunately, for Musicals Tonight, the smallest by far and most adventurous of the three New York theatre companies regularly producing readings of rarely-revived musicals, is now offering the North American premiere of this charmer in a limited run through November 23rd.

The first partnership of High Spirits collaborators Hugh Martin (music) and Timothy Gray (lyric, and co-authorship of the book with Eric Maschwitz), both were making their London debuts. Although Gray was a musical theatre novice at the time, Martin had already won acclaim for his work with Ralph Blane, co-authoring both music and lyrics for the classic film Meet Me in St. Louis (Oscar nomination for "The Trolley Song") and the stage and screen versions of Best Foot Forward. Previously unknown Jean Carson was such a smash as Judy that she was offered (and turned down!) the role of Eliza Doolittle in the London premiere of My Fair Lady, and Cotton Club favorite Adelaide Hall was embraced by West End audiences in a supporting role.

Based on Jean Webster’s 1912 romantic novel Daddy Long Legs, Love, From Judy’s first scene strikingly resembles the opening of Annie, which would hit Broadway 25 years later. The titular Judy is a spunky, strong-willed 18-year-old resident of a New Orleans girls orphanage, complete with a mean supervisor ("If I had my way the whole race of orphans would be wiped off the face of the earth!") and a pretty, young trustee (named Grace!) who takes her under her wing. Though Judy has romantic fantasies (the lovely ballad "I Never Dream When I’m Asleep" establishes her character as effectively as Annie’s "Maybe"), she’s also a bit of a trouble-maker, and teaches her buddies the tongue-in-cheek anthem of their own hard knock life, "It’s Great To Be An Orphan" ("We’re rowdy/We’re rotten/Because we’re all forgotten"). Enter Jervis, the new trustee (and, conveniently, a handsome young millionaire) who, impressed with Judy’s determination to make something of herself, offers to pay for her college education on the conditions that his generosity be anonymous and she write him once a month (c/o Grace) to update him on her progress. In one of those coincidences that musical comedy thrives in, Judy’s snooty college dorm mate winds up being the millionaire’s niece, providing ample opportunity for her and her secret benefactor to spend time tighter and hesitantly fall in love.

Definitely a product of its time, Love, From Judy boasts old-fashioned leads and charming comic relief characters. Though no hit songs came from this show, the score is nonetheless an enjoyable mix of light ballads, genuinely funny comedy songs and even a bit of blues and operetta, often reminiscent of the glory days on MGM musicals. In "Dumb, Dumb, Dumb" a pretty blonde co-ed proves she has brains by quoting complex mathematic equations. And Gray proves he has skill by managing to rhyme them. While Rodgers and Hammerstein might provide a clam bake or a box social as a substitute for sexual hijinx, the healthy young college students in Love, From Judy let off steam with a musical husking bee, where if a boy shucks a red ear of corn he can kiss any girl he likes. (This may have provided the inspiration for Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Jule Styne’s "The Husking Bee," sung several years later as a satirical production number in Say, Darling.)

With scripts in hand and limited rehearsal time, Thomas Mills’ skeletal direction provides hints of what Love, From Judy could become in a full-fledged production. Most importantly, he has the energetic cast diving into the material with unabashed sincerity and nary a wink. In the title role, Vanessa Lemonides is an incandescently appealing performer who can lovingly phrase a tender ballad or kick up her heels and have more fun strumming a fake banjo than anyone has a right to. As her wealthy leading man, Julian Rebolledo has little to do beyond gazing at his co-star with moony-eyed admiration, but he does so with warmth and dignity, and when called upon to sing he exudes a strong romantic tenor.

Musical theatre buffs will certainly want to see this one, if for the curiosity factor alone. But Love, From Judy will give even the casual theatre-goer something to smile about or whistle the next day. Stripped of their spectacle, how many of today’s Broadway musicals can pull that one off?

Secret admiration - Love from Judy
Off-Off Broadway November 13, 2003
Reviewed by Seth Bisen-Hersh

What would happen if Annie married Daddy Warbucks? Love from Judy, presented for the first time this side of the Atlantic at Musicals Tonight!, answers that question. The show follows an orphan with a secret benefactor whom she falls in love with - although her Daddy Longlegs is not bald or old.

The show opens at the John Grier Orphanage around Mardi Gras time. The main character of the show is Judy Abbotts (Vanessa Lemonides), an 18-year-old orphan with saucy spunk. The only woman trustee of the orphanage, Grace (Valerie A. Hill), is convinced Judy should go to college. She talks the new trustee, Jervis Pendleton (Julian Rebolledo), into funding her education.

Abbotts excitedly leaves her nightmarish past behind and embarks to school. Jervis, wishing to remain anonymous, instructs Grace to just inform her that some old guy named John Smith has become her guardian. Judy falls in love with Jervis, unaware that he knows about her past, so she refuses to tell him her feelings. But eventually love conquers all.

The book is bulky and verbose. There are some snappy one-liners, but for the most part it would need serious tightening to be produced commercially. The score is decent. There are some really good numbers, such as the title song; "Dumb, Dumb, Dumb" (a song by the blonde about being stereotyped); and Jervis's big ballad, "My Own True Love."

The best reason to see the show, aside from the fact that this will probably be the only production of it, was the cast. As always, Musical Tonight! assembled an enchanting ensemble. They were led by Vanessa Lemonides, who captured both the sweetness and the spiciness of Judy. Furthermore, she showed off a pure, powerful voice that thrills in all of her numbers, even the banal ones.

The direction and choreography by Thomas Mills were clever as always, especially when the binders (which the cast read from throughout) were used as props and even in dance numbers. The show moved at a swift pace; unfortunately, there was a limit to how fast they could get through some of the superfluous scenes.

Love from Judy is a charming, old-fashioned musical. It would never run today, but it is nice to imagine a time when it would. Musicals Tonight! is like a time machine, bringing the audience back to another time when happy endings were rife and expected.

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