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JUDY GARLAND— A NIGHT IN THE LIFE...

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1961, at the top of her game and enjoying her umpteenth triumphant comeback tour, Judy Garland walks into a little piano bar and joins a "name the show tune" contest because she just happens to know the song is from an MGM musical. She is persuaded by the engaging piano player to join the patrons to sing (and lift) a few. This simple premise is the beginning of a highly entertaining evening, thanks to Julie Sheppard's uncanny performance as Judy, as well as the artful direction of J.J. Griffin. Lorna Luft may be singing the songs her mother taught her at a theatre in Beverly Hills, but Sheppard, who bears a remarkable resemblance and has the vocal power and mannerisms of Judy, is also singing them all, "and we'll stay all night," in North Hollywood. Julie aces Judy's signature songs—"Zing Went the Strings of My Heart," "Born in a Trunk," "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody," and others—but it's the ballads and her banter with her talented co-star, Ron Snyder, "the piano man," that make us believe we're in the company of a genuine star. We feel the love, respect, and professional commitment they have for each other, and they pull us willingly into their world. In one of the evening's best moments, Sheppard and Snyder sing Harold Arlen's "The Man That Got Away" from "A Star Is Born." It appears they can identify with the lyrics. We can hear a pin drop when Snyder plays Chopin's haunting "Fantasie Impromptu," the melody used for "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows." It's a subtle salute to the other "rainbow song" Snyder has wisely chosen not to tackle. As Liza Minnelli said, "It's been sung." The intimacy of the theatre, the warm set and atmospheric lighting by John Grant, add immeasurably to the evening. Judy may be gone, but she will never be forgotten when she is in the loving and talented hands of Sheppard, accompanied by Snyder. To steal what a critic said about Judy and Liza when he saw them at the London Palladium, "This was double pow!" "Judy Garland—A Night in the Life...," presented by and at Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m. July 11-Aug. 2. $20. (818) 506-060

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