To celebrate this year’s 100th anniversary of the birth of the legendary Judy Garland (June 10, 1922-June 22, 1969), performer, writer, producer, and instructor Jenna Pastuszek and music director, arranger, educator, and pianist Joshua Zecher-Ross will bring their popular cabaret concert Get Happy!: A Tribute to the World’s Greatest Entertainer, Judy Garland to NYC’s The Green Room 42, for Pastuszek’s one-night-only in-person and livestream debut at the club. Designed to bring a new perspective to lifelong fans and to introduce Millennials and Gen Z’ers to the life and canon of the timeless artist, the homage isn’t in the traditional format of a Garland impersonation. It contains lavish new arrangements of a specially curated set list of classic favorites and lesser-known songs, interspersed with heartfelt personal stories that will help you forget your troubles and get happy!
Originally intended for a May 2020 date at The GR42, the pandemic altered the plan. Pivoting, as many performers did throughout the industry shutdown, the duo began performing the show in a variety of settings, including outdoor, masked, BYO Lawn Chair subscriber events, donor fundraisers in parking lots, special concert series, pre-recorded virtual screenings, and live ZOOM shows, to support theaters and non-profit organizations attempting to keep the arts afloat. In 2020 and 2021 alone, Get Happy! performances (including appearances on Jim Caruso’s Pajama Cast Party, at Paper Mill Playhouse, Bucks County Playhouse, and Delaware Theatre Company, among many others) helped raise approximately $20,000 through ticket sales and attendee contributions.
As the pandemic evolved, so did the show. “Judy Garland fought to rise above a plethora of trauma during her lifetime. How fortunate I was and am to get to sing through her catalogue while healing my own over the past two years,” noted Pastuszek. “She was a fighter, and the stories I share throughout the evening honor her fight and center on navigating many, unfortunately all too common, pandemic experiences, including losing loved ones to COVID-19, eviction, moving, and more.”
Under the direction of Ari Axelrod, with dramaturgy by Caitlin C. Fahey, she will also examine why Garland’s star power is just as potent as it was 83 years ago, when the world first heard her sing about a place “somewhere over the rainbow” in The Wizard of Oz. What is it about Judy that continues to build new generations of loving admirers and followers? What can we learn from her resilience and determination to forget her troubles?
Jenna told me that her own Ukrainian heritage had an impact on her stories of healing. “Many of the stories I tell throughout the show involve my family, and I’ve rewritten a portion of the show to talk about the current atrocities occurring in Ukraine. Ukrainians, as we’ve all seen from the news, are tough people who even face tragedy with a sense of humor and stoicism. That’s me too. We heal by moving through it rather than wallowing in it, and we know that laughter, despite how awful things can be, can sometimes be the best policy (see the people of Kyiv taking down the highway signs so that the Russians got lost). Now I’m incredibly privileged to be performing in a cabaret venue and not fighting for my life at the moment, and that reality in and of itself has impacted the gratitude I have for this opportunity and inspired me to share more of my stories and myself with the audience, in an effort to be a voice for Ukrainian people everywhere. When marketing the show and being vocal on social media, I’ve shared my family’s history, which helped raise over $1800 for United Help Ukraine.”
When I asked Jenna which of the songs she’s performing is her very favorite, and what she loves most about it, she revealed: “The problem with singing through Judy’s catalogue is that she sang so many good songs that it’s hard to pick!!! I do share with the audience that my absolute favorite song of hers to sing – one that, when I discovered it on a live album of recordings from The Judy Garland Show, made me cry on the subway from her simple vulnerability and quivering voice – is “That’s All.” It’s a ballad, a love song, and I think of my husband and the many simple quiet nights we’ve shared together throughout the pandemic, which make me smile.”
And although she can be heard daily by everyone, everywhere as the voice of Amazon Alexa, Starbucks Café, Crest, and more on Pandora Radio, Jenna is very excited about returning to the live stage in NYC. “New York is, to quote Lin-Manuel Miranda, ‘the greatest city in the world!’ I am so excited to be in the Big Apple, doing the thing I love most in the world: singing! There’s nothing like the energy, the passion, the drive of New Yorkers, and I’m thrilled finally to be at a place in the pandemic where we can come out of hiding and celebrate how far we’ve come as a collective, as human beings navigating a global pandemic, and as artists who have lived, lost, discovered, changed, grown, struggled. Judy was a survivor. She just kept going. And what better way for us all in this present moment to remember to keep going than by celebrating her music and legacy?”
Get Happy!: A Tribute to the World’s Greatest Entertainer Judy Garland plays on Thursday, April 7, at 7 pm, at The Green Room 42, inside the YOTEL, 570 Tenth Avenue, 4th floor, NYC. For tickets (priced at $29-49; all tickets include a $10 food and beverage credit), call (646) 707-2990, or go online. Everyone must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter. The show will also be livestreamed; tickets are $19 and can be purchased here. A link will be emailed to you one hour before showtime.