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Area resident writes play celebrating Judy Garland
By Mary Whalen
Monday, April 14, 2014 3:24 AM
A passion for sharing the life of Judy Garland allowed Krista Lenn Johnson, who works at Spring Valley Senior Living, to create the play "Judy, Judy, Judy," which was recently performed at Austin's Historic Paramount Theatre.
The cast of "Judy, Judy, Judy" invited the audience to join the singing of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" at the end of Krista Lenn Johnson's play.
The connection Krista Lenn Johnson has with Judy Garland can be traced to her childhood days growing up in Waseca. As a young adult, Krista moved to southeastern Minnesota where she is raising her daughter and working at the Spring Valley Senior Living Center.
Krista wants to pass on the positive influence her mother and grandparents were in her life. "I have always felt a connection with Judy's music," Krista expressed. "Her music has a unique quality. I could relate to her life and the many ups and downs, which she allowed to come through her emotions and out in her music. When Judy sang a song, she opened her heart and the audience saw her soul and deeply identified with her vulnerability at a time when people had trouble with expressing themselves."
Two months before Krista arrived in Austin, 18 years ago, a variety show fundraiser featuring Judy Garland's music was performed with proceeds targeted for the renovation of the Historic Paramount Theatre. A narration concerning Judy's life was entwined with vocalists singing Garland's songs.
The idea of scripting a play was presented to Krista by Jerry Girton, the director of "Judy, Judy, Judy" as a fundraiser for the Paramount Theatre in Austin in March.
Krista explained, "Jerry didn't think people would be interested in a narration and thought it would be more interesting if Judy told about her own life. He remembered my disappointment about missing the first 'Judy' tribute. Jerry was aware that I'd spent my entire childhood reading every book about Judy's life, learning her voice and relating to the depths of her spirit. I think he also knew I could give Judy to the people, so Jerry asked me to write the show and be Judy. And I said yes!"
Even though working full-time and being a mom didn't allow Krista a great deal of time for writing, she began creating the play in her mind and jotting sentences down on scraps of paper or in her phone for a couple months. Friends offered to lend her their computer to actually write the play, which took another couple months.
Two weeks before opening night, a cast came together to begin practice. The people with singing roles rehearsed with the musical director on their own time and the cast came together as a group after music was learned. "Several local actors and singers, all of them brilliant, made up the cast," Krista said. "I had been watching so many of these people become others on the stage for 20 years, so it was quite an honor for me to have them say, 'Yes!' to such a project. I learn so much every time I watch and act with them."
Many actors would come two or three hours early every night to work on scenes and songs, believing this performance deserved the best they could give. "I have never seen teamwork, work ethic and dedication like that," Krista said. "It was incredible."
The practices paid off, Krista said. "The performances were amazing! We, as a cast, could feel the energy in the audience. We could feel them laughing, crying and being incredibly moved. We had standing ovations after every performance."
More important to Krista than the ovations, was that Judy's story came through and people responded to it.
"I wrote a play about Judy Garland and the people who heavily influenced her life," said Krista. "I wanted to convey sides of Judy the public isn't quite as familiar with and to explain why she was the way she was. I wished to show her in real life situations with family and friends that we all can relate to and to show the intense love and struggle she shared with others and within herself."
Krista also said she wished to show how Judy Garland was heavily affected by others. At the same time, she let her humor, her introspective wisdom and her gift reach out to others.
One of the unique qualities of this play is that Krista wrote it so Judy interacts with the audience on a regular basis, joking and telling about her life.
"Scenes from her past are played out," she added. "In the beginning, a younger Judy acts in these scenes, then as the play progresses I, as Judy, step into the scenes from the past until the past envelopes Judy and she forgets the audience is even there. Because she forgets the audience is there, truths about her addiction, sadness, marital issues, etcetera, arise in ways they wouldn't have, had she known the audience was present."
The play Krista penned is really about making the conscious choice to look inward and deal with emotions and struggles, instead of running away from them. It's about a person searching for her home, but also learning how to share the home discovered with others.
At the end of the play, Krista as Judy, goes down into the audience and speaks to a person she selected randomly to talk to about the beauty of a simple life.
She said, ""I've been watching you out of the corner of my eye during this whole show and what really strikes me is that you really know how to live."
Krista then expounds on the simple routine most people embrace each day, concluding by saying, "You know all the money in the world...all the fancy houses and cars... all of the jobs... applause and fame...you know... you can't take that with you....People spend so much time... pointing fingers.. looking outward... grabbing for straws... reaching for rainbows... trying to fill the void with anything they think will make them happy. When in truth, it is only the love inside us...the love we share that carries on. The love inside us is our home."
The play, "Judy, Judy, Judy," concludes with the song, "Over The Rainbow" started by Krista and then the audience and cast are asked to enter the song.
As the final note resonates, closing this performance at the Historic Paramount Theater, another door opens for Krista who is hopeful her play will be performed in different venues in the future. She is working diligently to allow Judy Garland's life to be known in a new light.
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