DAILY HERALD: Angela Ingersoll's Judy Garland tribute puts star in PBS spotlight

Barbara Vitello, DAILY HERALD.

About 18 months ago, singer/actress and lifelong Judy Garland fan Angela Ingersoll made a wish. Fearing for Garland's legacy, Ingersoll wished for the opportunity to excise the kitsch that sometimes dimmed Garland's star. "I wanted to commit to shining a positive light on Judy," Ingersoll said. And since then, "the universe has been nonstop green lights."

The latest comes Tuesday, Oct. 10, when PBS will film a performance of her tribute concert "Judy Garland: Come Rain or Come Shine" at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles for broadcast next year. The taping for PBS, which has showcased concerts featuring her husband and "Jersey Boys" star Michael Ingersoll's group Under the Streetlamp, follows another key Garland role. Ingersoll starred last year in Porchlight Music Theatre's acclaimed revival of "End of the Rainbow," Peter Quilter's play with music chronicling Garland's 1968 London comeback concert. The role earned Ingersoll a 2017 Joseph Jefferson Award nomination for lead actress in a play.

Like many fans, Ingersoll first encountered Garland in 1939's "The Wizard of Oz" as Dorothy, the teenager dressed in blue gingham who desperately wanted to return home to Kansas. But the Judy Garland who indelibly etched herself into the singer/actress' consciousness was the Garland who played Carnegie Hall in 1961 and starred in her own CBS variety show from 1963 to 1964.

"Judy looking directly into the camera … It wasn't a movie or a character, it was her real self she was giving me," said Ingersoll, a Chicago and suburban theater veteran who previously channeled Garland in cabaret shows "The 12 Dames of Christmas" and "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues."

"Come Rain or Come Shine" is all Judy. But Ingersoll makes clear her performance is not an impression. And she doesn't sugarcoat the darkness that plagued the star. "When I walk on stage in concert, I say 'Hello, I'm Angela Ingersoll.' I make it clear my calling is to be her artistic descendant," she said.

Garland grew up during the Depression, emerged as America's sweetheart during World War II, fought personal demons in the 1950s and did concerts and TV in the 1960s. When she died in 1969, a couple of months before Woodstock, "a version of America died," Ingersoll said.

Ingersoll came upon the live recording of Garland's 1961 Carnegie Hall concert as a child, rummaging through albums at a thrift store. "I couldn't stop singing 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow,'" she said. "I sang it as loud as I could sing it. I felt liberated."

Ingersoll's roles over the years have ranged from a schoolgirl in the Aesop fable-inspired tuner "How Can You Run With a Shell on Your Back?" to William Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth. Ingersoll said she's always relished playing "the most difficult woman on stage," who carries pain and darkness inside. "Judy's sharp edges and glowing center add up to that equation," she said.

Porchlight artistic director Michael Weber knew about Ingersoll's Garland affinity and her expertise at performing Garland's repertoire when he was preparing for "End of the Rainbow." "The pleasure of Angie is she came to the table with so much knowledge," Weber said. "She already knew the dramaturgical components of Garland's life."

A fine musician as well as a serious actress, Ingersoll is also a comedian and a dancer, who crafted a performance so remarkable, Weber says, he cannot imagine remounting Porchlight's production without her. "Angela has an open invitation when it comes to this piece," he said. "Audiences would love to get another opportunity to see her play the role."

Weber wasn't the only one Ingersoll impressed. Garland's son Joey Luft heard about her performance, contacted her and appeared alongside her at her Mother's Day Arcada concert last May, putting his blessing on Ingersoll's life's calling. "I feel like she's whispering to me," Ingersoll says. "I'm listening to her in my head when I'm singing the songs."

After Tuesday's filming, Ingersoll heads to Los Angeles for another production of "End of the Rainbow." And while she hasn't ruled out returning to the stage in some other role, Garland will occupy Ingersoll's professional life for the foreseeable future.

And she couldn't be happier. "I feel more comfortable in my own skin than I ever have."

Cover Photo: Onesti Entertainment