On Friday, April 22, 2022, we were introduced to Joan Ellison as she arrived from the airport for Behind the Notes, a talk hosted by the Punta Gorda Symphony Director and Conductor Raffaele Livio Ponti.
Ellison spoke of her restoration of Judy Garland’s original orchestrations by Nelson Riddle, rich, vibrant masterpieces of a golden era. She hinted at the turbulence of the 47 years Judy Garland performed, starting as a child, and her well-earned status as a national treasure.
“There is no barrier between her and song,” Ellison says about Garland. Garland’s personal, reflective, intimate style can be seen in The Judy Garland Show when she was often moved to tears during a song. Garland frequently stopped everything, sat down, and drew the listener close. Garland was a wonderful storyteller and dancer, and Ellison notes that all eyes are inexorably drawn upon Garland in the movie Easter Parade as she upstaged fellow luminary Fred Astaire.
The concert on Sunday kicked off with the symphony’s performance of a wonderfully orchestrated medley of Duke Ellington songs. With The Trolley Song, Ellison arrived on stage. Next was Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart from the Judy in Love studio album.
Ellison performed an arrangement of The Boy Next Door from Garland’s television show. From recently discovered papers of Garland’s husband, composer, and bandleader David Rose emerged a whimsical performance of A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow, with many of Garland’s affectations flawlessly and respectfully performed by Ellison. From 1954, A Star Is Born – The Man That Got Away was touching, pensive, and romantic.
A medley of songs from the 1955 Judy At The Palace studio recording followed including You haven’t Lived Until you’ve Played the Palace, Shine on Harvest Moon, My Man, Some Of These Days, and I Don’t Care.
Ellison captivated her audience through her own vulnerability and passion with song and facon de parler. She charmingly conveyed the marvelous musical poetry and spirit of Garland and the composers, touching the hearts of the listeners just as Garland did so long ago. She doesn’t imitate Garland; instead, she honors her and, for the audience, intimately portrays and shares a legacy of romance, love, loss, and longing. We were captured by her sumptuous musical badinage and expressed poignant tensions. Ellison is sensually dazzling, graceful, and glittering, from her signature red lipstick and costumes to the music.
The rich harmonies, delicate shadings, and intones of the orchestra warmly enveloped the audience and our chanteuse alike, drawing all into the pathos and lyrical ecstasy of the songs. We understand and celebrate the orchestra’s well-earned approbations.
Closing with Over the Rainbow, and with a click of the heels, the 43rd season of the Punta Gorda Symphony glided into its denouement. After all, Maestro Ponti did have to get his rented tuxedo back by 9:30.
The enthusiastic, adoring audience was treated with an encore, Chicago That Toddling Town.
To hear Joan Ellison sing her Judy at the Palace Medley, click here.
Sunday, April 24, 2022. 7:30 pm at the Charlotte Harbor Event & Conference Center. $65 included an after-party.