Fringe World review: Ali Bodycoat and Jessie Gordon, Peggy Lee & Judy Garland ⋅
Ellington Jazz Club, February 6 ⋅
Review by Leon Levy ⋅
There was something especially alluring about the prospect of a session at Ellington devoted to two great American singers whose impact was felt across a broad swathe of the mid-20th century. Although they were close contemporaries and each possessed a beguiling vocal personality, they made their mark in rather different ways. Peggy Lee’s sultry renditions in both the jazz and popular repertoire saw her through a long career into old age; Judy Garland, by starting early, had almost as long a career despite her troubled life being cut short.
The question on this occasion was whether two such larger-than-life careers could be encompassed in barely an hour. And the answer on the night was an emphatic yes.
Judy Garland’s triumphs on the concert stage were arguably even greater than those on screen and disc. Ali Bodycoat, covering the Garland songs, conquered the challenge of bringing a high-voltage personality into a small room. Many of her interpretations seemed to foreshadow what was still to come in Garland’s unhappy life: Get Happy brittle with brightness, Over the Rainbow bearing a sadness deeper than Dorothy’s in The Wizard of Oz, whose happy ending the singer herself never achieved. But it was not all gloom: Zing Went the Strings of My Heart and The Trolley Song brought moments of happy abandon, enhanced by wonderfully clear diction.
Peggy Lee’s seductive style and songbook were surely tailor-made for the intimate space that is the Ellington, and Jessie Gordon slipped effortlessly into the role. Is That All There Is exuded “nightclub” and the singer brought if off beautifully. The song, Fever, although not originally hers, became inextricably bound with Peggy Lee and was another considerable highlight. All the chosen songs were covered with authentic feeling and gave great pleasure.
The linking banter between the two artists brought context to some of the songs and avoided the risk of a channelling exercise. But, in truth, much of the chatter did not add to the occasion: the delivery of the songs – and the support of a stylish Adrian Galante at the piano – said it all.
Peggy Lee & Judy Garland continues until 10 February.
Pictured top: Ali Bodycoat and Jessie Gordon. Photo supplied.