“Just go with the magic,” says one of the three singers on stage to a slightly reluctant compatriot. However, it’s as much an instruction to the audience, asking us to swap the chaotic delights of the Edinburgh Fringe for some gaudy
Cliché or not, this is a show not to be missed.
Despite the stars name-checked in the title, there’s little real surprise that the first subject is Frances Ethel Gumm, who was transformed by the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios into Judy Garland. She more or less set the gold standard when it came to on-set histrionics, drug abuse and numerous failed marriages. Was Garland was forever seeking approval from an absent father via a string of good-for-nothing husbands – the only exception, perhaps, being her second, Vincente Minnelli? The couple met when he directed her in Meet Me In St Louis; with the simplest of twists, the film’s famous Trolly Song becomes about him. (The couple, of course, had a daughter: “Liza was a cutie,” we’re told, “but we’ll get back to her later.”)
Doris Day, we’re told, was no less likely than Garland to “get all excited about nothing – and then married” to men who proved to be either abusive or after her money. A somewhat different squeaky clean diva is Julie Andrews, frustrated by being typecast as Mary Poppins, and yet capable of turning an innocent song into a really dirty one simply by removing some of the lyrics. This, however, proves to be a relatively brief, albeit hysterically funny interlude; switching the focus to Liza Minnelli reminds us how the “classic divas” of the past appear all too emotionally adrift despite their fame and fortune.
All of which would be somewhat depressing if it wasn’t for the final diva on the list – Dolly Parton. Say what you like about her – and chances are, she’ll have already got there first, more wittily – she’s the diva who has somehow remained emotionally grounded and in control of her own destiny, ready to stand up for what’s rightfully hers even if it means refusing one of her songs to Elvis Presley. You can’t help by cheer.
Unfortunately, of course, it’s eventually time for us all to return to Edinburgh, but not before all three performers – Frances Thorburn, Gail Watson and the wonderfully deadpan Clare Waugh – have proved their light comedic timing, brilliant singing and some genuine showbiz magic to a highly appreciative audience. Cliché or not, this is a show not to be missed.