Performing arts in Hong Kong

Judy Garland trip to Hong Kong, when she went into a coma, the spark for new play about troubled star’s visit and her life

Candice Moore stars as the American singer and actress in a play premiering at the Hong Kong Fringe Club about 1964 visit, in which she met Australian Peter Allen, who was to marry her daughter Liza Minnelli, and was rushed to hospital

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 June, 2018, 7:46pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 June, 2018, 2:51pm

On June 22 next year it will be half a century since Judy Garland died in London, aged 47, of a prescription drug overdose. But she nearly checked out the same way five years earlier in Hong Kong.

This dramatic episode in Garland’s life inspired actor and singer Michael Sharmon to write a play, Lions, Typhoons and Judy, Oh My!, which runs from June 27 to 30 at the Hong Kong Fringe Club Underground Theatre, starring Candice Moore as Garland.

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The show is based on Garland’s May 1964 visit to Hong Kong, during which the troubled star, fleeing from a hostile press response to a disastrous tour of Australia, checked into the then newly opened Mandarin Oriental Hotel. In the midst of Typhoon Viola she was rushed to Canossa Hospital in Mid-Levels, where she spent 15 hours in a coma.

Thanks to some misinformation from a nurse she was wrongly reported to have died. In fact, Garland recovered and stayed in Hong Kong to recuperate.

During the trip she and her soon-to-be fourth husband Mark Herron discovered a talented young Australian singer called Peter Allen who was working at the Hilton. He went on to enjoy a successful international career, and became the first husband of Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli. He died from an Aids-related illness in 1992, aged 48, by which time he was also a well-known songwriter.

Allen’s life became the basis of Broadway hit The Boy From Oz, in which his first meeting with Garland also features, but Sharmon says there is otherwise little in common between the two shows.

“Candice and myself have been chatting about doing a project about Judy Garland for five years, so it's wonderful to finally be getting it up on its feet and to be premiering it in Hong Kong where most of the story takes place,” he says.

“Probably the biggest challenge was to offer a new perspective. There are so many amazing books, films and TV movies about Judy Garland’s life and so we didn’t want to repeat or copy them, but I am very excited about what we are presenting.”

The play is not a straight dramatisation of what happened to Garland in Hong Kong. It touches on many other aspects of her life and career, and includes such signature songs as The Man That Got Away and the unavoidable Over the Rainbow, as well as a couple of Peter Allen numbers. The difficult production of the 1954 film A Star Is Born features in flashback.

“The project has been in the pipeline for several years, so it is great to put it into production,” says Moore, whose Sweet & Sour Productions is co-presenting the show with Golden Voice Entertainment.

“I have been a fan of Judy Garland since I was a child. I watched her films, listened to her albums and read many biographies about her. I was drawn to her tremendous talent and versatility as a performer and also her struggles with addiction and mental illness.

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“So when I read that she visited Hong Kong in 1964 my interest was piqued. Not many people know she came here and so I think the show will appeal to Hong Kong theatregoers.”

With the exception of Moore, all the cast perform multiple roles. Kath O’Connor, Raymond Chan and Ivan Idzik tackle four apiece, while author Sharmon handles no fewer than six, including that of a young Peter Allen.

“It has been an absolute pleasure to work with such a talented, committed and witty cast,” says director Jacqueline Gourlay Grant.

“Candice walks the fine line of convincingly portraying Garland’s larger-than-life, bizarre, erratic behaviour. This uniquely funny and poignant brand new play by Michael Sharmon offers a new insight into the inner conflict that inspired and consumed one of the most beloved figures in American history.”

Lions, Typhoons and Judy Oh My!, Sweet & Sour Productions and Golden Voice Entertainment, Hong Kong Fringe Club Underground Theatre, Central, June 27 to 30, 8pm; June 29, 11pm. Tickets: HK$280. Inquiries: 2521 7251 or sweetandsour.com.hk