(photo by Ali Barillaro)
Over The Rainbow
Legendary theatre director Roger Peace teams up with legend-in-the-making Chris Barillaro to recreate Judy Garland’s extraordinary 1961 concert at the Montreal Forum
by Richard Burnett
“Judy could drink Elvis under the table.”
“Elvis was addicted to painkillers.”
Denis Rose as Judy Garland (courtesy Segal Centre)
A quarter-century later, in his 2013 sold-out re-staging of Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Montreal’s Segal Centre for Performing Arts, Peace cast another glorious diva in the role made famous by the late Nell Carter on Broadway, Kim Richardson, the pitch-perfect Juno Award-winning soul singer I have long called the Whitney Houston of Canada.“I do love my larger-than life divas,” says Roger. “I’ve always been attracted to writing for women, and directing women. I just can’t get excited about a Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra. But Piaf, Dietrich or Judy Garland? It’s so much easier and more fun writing musicals about these extraordinary women.”
Not to mention casting the likes of Ranee Lee, Michelle Sweeney, Kim Richardson and now Denise Rose in his glitzy, crowd-pleasing productions.
Peace began thinking about doing a musical about Garland some five years ago. “I had spoken with [Garland] and also had first-hand information on her from people who worked with her backstage [at the Forum] that night,” says Peace.
|With "Estelle" and "Devyn"|
So he recruited a young Chris Barillaro who’s first paying gig was music directing Fiddler on the Roof at Royal West Academy when he was just 17.
Now 27, Barillaro says, “I think Roger and I work really well together, and we also co-wrote a song together called Only Time Will Tell, which closes the first act. It’s this big sweeping Judy Garland song.”
In addition to working on Montreal musicals, and being Assistant Music Director for the Lyric Theatre Singers, Barillaro also teaches high school students: he is musical director at both St. George’s High School and Royal West Academy. “I like working with teenagers. That’s how I learned to music direct. I had no idea what I was doing at first. But over the years teaching kids you really do learn something. Some kids can read music, most can’t, so it’s a great way to learn skills.”
However, nothing could prepare Barillaro for his last-minute gig with pop icon Joan Rivers, who needed a piano player for her gala at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival last summer.“It was the craziest gig ever!” Barillaro says. “I had just gotten back from Cape Cod the night before and JFL were like, ‘We need a pianist!’ We rehearsed the afternoon of the show. It was insane – I was supposed to lift her up [onto the piano]. I thought it would just be a typical theatre lift but during the tech rehearsal she actually wanted to climb up the person! So we tried it and I partially threw out my back. In the end they got a burly stagehand and he was much better at it than I was.”