A musical focusing on the demise of Judy Garland’s life and career is obviously going to be marked by sadness, but Christine Andreas, the star of “Heartbreaker: Two Months with Judy Garland,” insists there’s enough musical magic and interesting storytelling to keep the audience captivated.
“We don’t sugarcoat the story, and it can be depressing,” said Andreas, a twice-nominated Tony Award actress who will play Garland in the world premiere of John Meyer’s play at the Adirondack Theatre Festival beginning Thursday night and running through July 6.
“But there’s also that magic that she had, the music, the entertainment. It’s sad at times, but it’s also a pretty fascinating portrait, to see her life dissolve and to learn why and how.”
“Heartbreaker” is inspired by the personal memoir of Meyer, a songwriter and novelist who spent two months in a relationship with Garland back in 1968 and ’69, five months before she died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.
‘Heartbreaker: Two Months With Judy Garland’
WHERE: Adirondack Theatre Festival, Charles R. Wood Theater, 207 Glen St., Glens Falls
WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, June 29; 2 and 7:30 p.m., July 3; 7:30 p.m., July 5-6
HOW MUCH: $40-$25
MORE INFO: 798-7479, www.atfestival.org
Meyer initially wrote the book in 1983 and is now turning it into a staged play starring Andreas and directed by Michael Bush. Also in the cast are New York City-based actors Ian Lowe as Meyer, who was 15 years younger than Garland when they met, and Doug Trapp.
“We did our first reading of it about five or six months ago, because it’s very different listening to actors do the line than what you see just reading it off the page,” said Andreas. “John needed to see what he had, so we’ve been working on it and making adjustments. He had to find the thing that gave it pop; to give it more dimension.”
“Heartbreaker” is a true story, at least the way Meyer saw it.
“It’s pretty interesting that we have the guy who had the affair with Judy working right with us,” said Andreas. “If we get stuck on something, we just ask John, ‘Hey, what really happened here?’ It’s a very real portrait, and very humane. Her life had fallen apart and he was trying to help her get it back together.”
A native of Camden, N.J., Andreas got her first big Broadway break in 1975 when she played Eliza Doolittle in the 20th anniversary production of “My Fair Lady.” She earned her first Tony nomination playing the lead in “Oklahoma!” in 1980, and was nominated again for her performance in “On Your Toes” in 1983. More recently, in 2010, she played the part of Jacqueline in the Broadway revival of “La Cage Aux Folles.”
Growing up in New Jersey, Andreas said she often listened to Garland records with her mother.
“Of course we were big fans, how could you not be,” she said. “My mom was a natural singer and she played all those wonderful artists from her day. We would sing all day long. I never had to learn Judy’s songs. I just always knew them.”
In “Heartbreaker,” Andreas sings a medley of Garland standards as well as some new songs written by Meyer just for this show.
“At this point in her life, Judy hadn’t sung in a while, so it’s about the two of them having belief in each other,” said Andreas. “And I’m not necessarily trying to clone her, but it is a tribute to her, I sound a little like her, and what I’m trying to do is to capture her energy. She’s an icon and people are pretty proprietary about their heroes. They have their memories of her, so I’m not out there trying to do Judy Garland.”
The design team includes set designer James Noone, lighting designer Kevin Adams, choreographer Randy Skinner, and costume designer Karen Ledger. All have vast Broadway experience, and Adams has three Tonys on his résumé for his work in “American Idiot,” “Spring Awakening,” and “The 39 Steps.”
“We have some top-notch New York talent for this show, including our Broadway leading lady,” said ATF artistic producer Mark Fleischer. “It’s a fun show, with the behind-the-scenes tabloid element to it, and John has written some amazing songs to go with it. He’s a solid, old-school entertainment type of guy, and Michael Bush is an accomplished director who’s hoping to take this show to New York after we’re done with it.”
“Heartbreaker” isn’t the only world premiere ATF is offering. As part of the summer’s region-wide celebration of artist Georgia O’Keeffe and her connection to Lake George, “Filming O’Keeffe,” by playwright Eric Lane, will be staged at the Charles R. Wood Theater from July 11-20.
O’Keeffe, born 125 years ago, was a popular painter who spent many summers in Lake George at the home of her husband, Alfred Stieglitz.
The story centers on a gifted high school student named Max who is making a film about O’Keeffe and Stieglitz. The play is being directed by Martha Banta, the original co-founder and artistic director at ATF.
“This is what we do well,” Fleischer said of the two new plays. “We try to have variety in our season, but it’s also about taking risks, getting behind something that’s new and being a part of it. I think our audience likes taking that risk.”
The third and final major production of the season will be the 2003 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, “Avenue Q,” from July 25-Aug. 3.
Also on the ATF schedule is another piece of work about O’Keeffe and Stieglitz, “Faraway Nearest One: Stieglitz to O’Keeffe, O’Keeffe to Stieglitz, A Reading of the Letters.” This special event will take center stage on Aug. 9-10, featuring former “Law & Order” regular Carolyn McCormick and her husband, Byron Jennings.
Rounding the ATF season will be the 2nd Act Cabaret starring David Finch from “Woody Sez,” July 18-20, and a new play reading, “The Bailey’s Crossroads Opportunity School,” by Hal Corley, July 28-29.