If you’re a diehard Judy Garland fan like me than you won’t want to miss seeing “Beyond The Rainbow,” Friday, April 28 through Sunday, May 14. Presented by Actors Theatre of Indiana, the production will be play in The Studio Theatre at the Center for the Performing Arts. The story of Garland’s life starting told in her songs, the show is set both on the stage of Carnegie Hall during her legendary 1961 come-back concert and in Garland’s mind.
Directed by ATI co-founder Don Farrell, the show features Anjali Rooney, Annie Yokom and Katy Gentry playing Garland at three different stages in her life. Together they will sing 2o iconic songs from Garland’s fabled repertoire.
Yokom, was the 2010 Songbook Academy Youth Ambassador. I was present when she won the Songbook competition and last saw her perform in a Songbook Academy alums concert that was held at the Palladium in January.
Yokom is a New York-based actor who grew up in Chicago. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre. Her roles at CMU include Dorothy in “The Wiz,” and Alice in “Alice in Bed.” TV/Film credits include, “Prison Break” (FOX) and “Weightless” (Smuggler Films). Other roles include Julie Jordan in “Carousel,” and Peggy Sawyer in “42nd Street.”
Recently I spoke by phone with Yokom who was taking a break from rehearsing “Beyond The Rainbow.”
How is it that you were cast in the show?
It was amazing. I did a concert at the Palladium in January with other Songbook Academy alums which you attended and our director, Don Farrell came up to me at and said ‘I’m doing this Judy musical. You were just fabulous. You are such a Judy Garland type and I would love to find a part for you in this musical.’ And my Aunt who was there with my mom…she is so funny… yelled out ‘Cast her!’ I was so embarrassed but it was such a sweet thing she did. He emailed me a couple of weeks later, asking me to read for the role. I sent him an audition video and later he contacted me and said ‘We would love for you to come to Indiana and be Judy.’ And I said ‘Yes, of course!’
Tell me about the show?
It’s a memory play. It’s in her mind at her Carnegie Hall concert so Katy Gentry is doing the songs from the concert. She based a lot of her performance on that concert and she does a lot of the same vocal stuff. So she sings the songs and she has these flashbacks, starting chronologically with little girl Judy played by Anjali Rooney who is so sweet and so good and so she kind of takes over the first part. We just go through her life. I start playing her around 14 when she was doing “Wizard of Oz” the start of her career at MGM and then we go through her life. Her ups and downs, the men in her life and so on and so forth.
What is your history with Judy Garland?
Well, I grew up watching a lot of her movies. My grandma and grandpa really loved “Easter Parade” and all those old time movies. When I was in high school I did musical theatre as a kid but my love for it just really grew so I started doing more research and I would watch clips of Judy Garland and Liza Minelli. They were my favorites. I love all the divas of musical theatre. There is just something about them. They are so mesmerizing, especially Judy in those old movies. I would just sit in front of my television drooling and completely in awe. It started really early.
Have you been told you have a range and vocal quality similar to Judy’s?
Oh yes. I just listened to so many different and amazing singers. That is kind of what formed my voice. I absorbed of the different sounds I like that old timey, classic sound. There is just something about them that is so charming, classic and lovable. I really try to show that side of that music. I wouldn’t say that I impersonate Judy but it just comes out that way.
Do your contemporaries admire your interest in music from the American Songbook?
They think it is a great thing. A lot of my college classmates admired me because it was definitely not something a lot of people do and not a lot of people can hone in on. I just have this connection. It’s magical and I think people acknowledge that and it strikes a chord with them. Frankly, my interest in it is a little obsessive (Laughs).
As far as Judy, are you doing an impersonation, an impression, capturing her essence or a little bit of all three?
It is a little bit of all three. We are working on that right now—blending the three of us. She had a very distinctive sound in her voice. I came into this show knowing that really well or knowing her little things that she does in her voice like her vibrato and her tone and her speaking voice. It is definitely her essence that I am trying to capture and not a dead on impersonation. It’s a little bit of all three like you asked in your question.
What have you done for research?
It is so much fun. I have this little notebook. I have all these different pictures of her family, a timeline of her life, and a whole huge channel of favorite clips of her movies I have watched over and over again.
When did you graduate from college?
I graduated two years ago. I moved to New York right away and have been auditioning a bunch. I am in a movie that is not out yet. It’s called “Weightless” I play a bartender who looks like Katy Perry. It’s just a fun little scene I’m in. I have been doing a lot of work with my friends, reading their works and just kind of goofing around. Just trying to figure out what the artist’s life is like in New York.
Are you taking classes?
You know what? I haven’t done a lot of that. I’ve been in class mu entire life. I think I was just burned out. Discovering the city and discovering what I really love to do which is this old music. Trying to figure out a Cabaret that I want to do. Me and my brother are trying to get some time to record together because he at the University of Michigan right now. He is a music composition major and he plays a lot of jazz. He also tap dances. He is fabulous. So we are trying to figure out what we want to do together. It’s just been a lot of growing and learning how to be an adult.
Have you earned your Actor’s Equity card?
I am earning my card doing the show.
Have you stayed in touch with your Songbook Academy friends?
Yes. Even the people I competed with originally. Thank God for social media. We are constantly liking everyone’s stuff. So I keep up with them and what they are up to.
It sounds like it was a special bonding experience.
Absolutely. The people I went to arts camp with, my high school, Songbook Academy and college performing arts friends are the types of people you pretty much keep your whole life.
What did the Songbook Academy do for you?
It really solidified what I truly wanted to do in my career. It was very special. The things I learned from Michael and performing at the Feinstein’s at Lowe’s Regency—it was an amazing experience to go to NYC and perform in his club.
I bet there was no one at your college who had a break like that.
No. I was really lucky. Just the master classes alone and then hearing what Michael has to say. Unforgettable. There is one thing I still remember to this one moment when he said this one thing that remains with me. ‘It’s different when you are in musical theatre and have that fourth wall but when you singing in a concert or a cabaret setting you can really look at people.’ I remember actually looking at people in the master classes and Feinstein’s and feeling an energy and the connection this music makes with people. It’s really special. He really taught me about the true magic thread— that connection tyou have with the audience. There is nothing like it.
Single ticket prices for “Beyond The Rainbow” are $43 for adults, and $37 for seniors, $20 for students (with valid student I.D.). Wednesday evening performances are $25 for all adults Tickets can be purchased online at atistage.org or through the Center For The Performing Arts box office by calling (317) 843-3800.