Ingénue: Deanna Durbin, Judy Garland and the Golden Age of Hollywood

A simple premise lays the foundation for Melanie Gall to recount the story of two of Hollywood’s brightest golden age stars, Deanna Durbin and Judy Garland: a New York Times journalist looking for a story about the two women’s rivalry upon Garland’s death. However, that isn’t what the journalist gets.

Gall’s vocal performance was wonderful

Ingenue tells the story of Deanne Durbin, who saved Universal Studios from bankruptcy and was arguably a much more famous star than Garland during the Great Depression. Durbin’s films and music brought hope to millions during World War II, and yet it is Judy Garland’s name that is remembered. It’s as much a story of what was as what could have been; Deanna Durbin’s trajectory through Hollywood would have been very different had she not passed up the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, and knowing now what a classic that film became, it was fascinating to delve into this side of the production that I would wager not many would know much about.

Gall gives an energetic performance as Deanna Durbin, and her chatty retelling of the story makes Ingenue a very easy watch. Making the piece unique, however, is Gall’s performances of popular songs of the time, and her classical vocal training is allowed to shine with the material chosen for the play. Simple staging supports the narrative, with nice production touches that emulate cinema screenings and auditions.

Touches of humour were brought out in the descriptions of the sheer escalation in America’s adoration for Deanne at such a young age - there aren’t many 15 or 20 year olds singing songs to soothe weary soldiers nowadays - and the heartless, cutthroat nature of golden age Hollywood is sure to raise eyebrows and bring out a few gasps.

Melanie Gall has headed up one-woman shows about bygone stars before, with a previous show charting the music of Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel, so this is a familiar format that works well to tell the personal stories of well-loved musical personalities.

Although the piece could have benefitted from a bit more tension to lend the narrative some light and shade, it was nevertheless an entertaining hour-long performance and Gall’s vocal performance was wonderful, offering operatic warmth to a host of period tunes that sensitively reflected the narrative.

Interspersed with beautiful song breaks, Ingenue is a sentimental retelling of a Hollywood friendship that isn’t often spoken about, and Gall’s interest in the period, its music, and the actress’s lives carries this easygoing performance.

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The Blurb

Judy is an icon, loved as Dorothy in Oz. But in the 1930s, Deanna was a much bigger star. Ingénue tells the true tale of the lifelong friendship – and rivalry – of these two Old Hollywood idols.

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