ABOVE: TINA MARIE CASAMENTO LIBBY
BELOW: JUDY GARLAND
Tina Marie Casamento Libby is more than passionate but less than obsessed about one of America’s sweethearts: Judy Garland. For the last seven years, she has devoted her time, talents, ingenuity and creativity to producing a story about Judy and her beginning years, her childhood until she wins the coveted role of Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.”
As an homage or tribute, Tina Marie realized early on that to do her story justice she had to use the songs that made Judy famous and an icon. Garland’s story is certainly not all sugar plums and candy canes, as there is a lot of heartache resting on those capable shoulders. Singing almost from the time she was in a crib, Judy always had a huge voice that carried her to unbelievable heights.
Using the songs that propelled her to stardom, Tina Marie carefully selected tunes like “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “You Made Me Love You” and “Over the Rainbow” as well as less well known melodies like “Gotta Pair of New Shoes” and “Thank You, Mr. Gable.” As Judy herself said, “The history of my life is in my songs.”
With experience as a director, producer, performer, teacher and casting director, Tina Marie is well qualified to take on this mammoth task. Describing herself as a “musical theatre geek,” she has always identified herself with the star. Like Judy, she lost a parent at a young age, had a fascination with “The Wizard of Oz,” grew up going to musical theatre with her Uncle Joe and even sang “Over the Rainbow” at her wedding. With a team that includes Marc Acito as book writer, John Fricke as historian, scenic designer Kristen Robinson, costuming Elizabeth Caitlin Ward, lighting Ken Billington, sound Jay Hilton, wigs and hair Mark Adam Rampmeyer, musical direction Michael O’Flaherty, choreography Chris Bailey, direction Tyne Rafaeli and her own husband David Libby as musical arranger, who makes the tunes of the 1930’s fresh, new and contemporary, she was off and running. She began telling Judy’s story with her birth as Frances Gumm of Minnesota, the daughter of vaudevillians, who went on stage at age 2 and a half with
To Tina Marie, “this is the inspirational journey of “Chasing Rainbows The Road to Oz,” from Judy’s age 4 to 16, from 1926 to 1938, the trauma and the triumphs of her early days. She captures “the fresh young years” in what historian John Fricke calls “emotional truth.” It’s the Depression and Judy feels an obligation to keep her family together, a young girl with an incredible voice who earned $100 a week, all while being told she wasn’t pretty or thin enough to succeed.
“Chasing Rainbows The Road to Oz” got its initial infusion of inspiration at the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at Goodspeed Musicals so it is fitting that it will be mounted on the Goodspeed stage until Sunday, November 27. For tickets ($74 and up), call Goodspeed Musicals, 6 Main Street, East Haddam (exit 7 off route 9) at 860-873-8668 or online at www.goodspeed.org. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. During Thanksgiving week, shows are Monday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., with no shows Tuesday to Thursday.
The great big voice in a tiny little body, as co-star Mickey Rooney described her, will be captured by 16 year old Ruby Rakos, who like Judy, sings with joy. Tina Marie discovered Ruby when she served on a panel at a New York Broadway Artists Alliance session, of kids 10 to 22, and Ruby was the last contestant Tina Marie heard out of 50. When Ruby belted out “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,” Tina Marie knew “I had literally found our Frances. She even dressed like an old soul.”
Tina Marie feels everything in her whole life “set me up to do this. I’m really enjoying the process, especially helping young actors live their dreams.” Right now, with previews starting, she is “excited, exhausted, nail biting, amazed, still fixing and tweaking. It looks beautiful, with shunning moments. I can’t wait to put my heart and soul in front of a paying audience.” She feels that there is “a little bit of me all over the show, in every character.” In telling Judy’s story, you’ll also meet her parents (Sally Wilfert and Kevin Earley), her boss at M.G.M. Louis B. Mayer (Michael McCormick) and stage friends like Mickey Rooney (Michael Wartella) among others.
This incredible family friendly lively musical will surely make you laugh, cry and cheer for that buoyant girl as you travel the yellow brick road to Oz with Judy Garland. Come discover “musical theatre gold” as the show “Chasing Rainbows” aims for the Emerald City that is Broadway.