Sunday, November 13, 2016

Ruby Rakos: A First Rate Version of Herself!

Ruby Rakos as Judy Garland Photo credit: Brian and Lorelei Edwards
Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.
-Judy Garland

Judy Garland (born Frances Ethel Gumm; June 10, 1922 – June 22, 1969) was an American singer, actress, and vaudevillian. She was renowned for her contralto vocals and attained international stardom that continued throughout a career spanning more than 40 years as an actress in musical and dramatic roles, as a recording artist, and on concert stages.
Garland began performing in vaudeville with her two older sisters and was signed to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as a teenager. There, she made more than two dozen films, including nine with Mickey Rooney and her most famous role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Other notable roles at MGM included Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), The Harvey Girls (1946) and Easter Parade (1948). After 15 years, she was released from the studio and made record-breaking concert appearances, a successful recording career, and her own Emmy nominated television series. Film appearances became fewer in her later years, but included two Academy Award nominated performances in A Star Is Born (1954) and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). (Source: Wikipedia).
I don't think there is a person in the world today passed the age of
five (thanks to The Wizard of Oz) who does not know who Judy Garland is.

When I was very young
the world was younger than I
as merry as a carousel.
-Lyric from Little Girl Blue by Rodgers and Hart

I truly don't believe we would have ever had The Wiz and Wicked if Judy Garland had never lived. Judy Garland has been impersonated by many. She has been portrayed by many both on film and stage.  There have been many books on the subject. Most want to focus on the "tragic" side of Judy. There has really been very little focus on Francis Gumm and how she became Judy Garland.
Of course it has been covered in the many books written about Judy. Again, so much emphasis on the 'tragic' details of her life. I just counted 
twenty books on my bookshelves devoted to Judy Garland (most by John Fricke).
When it comes to the younger Judy Garland, I also have Young Judy by David Dahl and Barry Kehoe. In 1978, Andrea McArdle played Judy in the telepic Rainbow which was named after Christopher Finch's book of the same title (and one of my first Judy Garland biographies). It was directed by Jackie Cooper who knew Judy very well and gave it the sensitivity and respect it deserved. Years later, Tammy Blanchard gave an Emmy award winning portrayal of  Judy in the Emmy award winning Me and My Shadows
Now,the early years of Judy Garland have been brought brilliantly to the Goodspeed Opera House in Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz. 

The Wizard of Oz, of course, is a 1939 American musical comedy-drama fantasy film produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and the most well-known and commercially successful adaptation based on the 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. he film stars Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale. The co-stars are Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Frank Morgan, Billie Burke, and Margaret Hamilton, with Charley Grapewin, Pat Walshe and Clara Blandick, Terry the dog (billed as Toto), and the Singer Midgets as the Munchkins.

How did Francis Gumm become Judy Garland and get to that point? Get thee to the Goodspeed Opera House before the end of the month (November 27th, 2016) and find out. The new musical has brilliantly been constructed using the songs of Judy's early career to tell the story. All of the elements have come together to create a brilliant alchemy and in the center spotlight as young
Frances Gumm/Judy Garland is Ruby Rakos. Wow! What a find. She is Oz-some as France/Judy. However, it succeeds on HER talent.
Ruby and I sat down in the midst of her grueling schedule last week that led her to this production.
Opening night Sept 17 after the show. Those are Sally Wilfert's rainbow roses. Photo credit: Katie Kearns
Like Frances, Ruby told her parents at a very early age that she wanted a career in show business. She started taking dance classes when she was two years old. She began singing when she was eight at a musical theater summer camp. She couldn't wait until she got into middle school so that she could try out for the school musical. She did two school musicals and during that time, she auditioned for Billy Elliot. At the beginning of her eighth grade year, she was cast. She played Tracey Atkinson for two years. She finished out going to high school by going to a professional performing arts school. Right before her senior year, she met Tina Marie Casamento Libby at a musical theater intensive in New York called Broadway Artist Alliance. She sang Zing! Went The Strings of My Heart at the producer's showcase panel and that led to the last three years doing table reads for Tina. That would lead to a staged reading and last year a full scale production at the Flat Rock Playhouse in Flat Rock, North Carolina.
Ruby says that it feels like her life is just starting.
Because Billy Elliot was already an established show, she was just 'slotted' in. "You hit your marks and do what you are supposed to do." There was not as much 'creativity' and/or freedom with the role. With Chasing Rainbows, because Judy is a real person, she has somewhere to start. She doesn't have to start from scratch or a 'break down'. In preparation, she read numerous biographies. She watched her older movies. She listened to her recordings and tried to emulate her cascades and her vibrato and she would drop consonants and "stuff like that".
Photo credit: Katie Kearns
Those are now elements that Ruby doesn't even need to think about. They are there and she can sort of use her knowledge of Judy's voice and they way she held herself and interpret songs.

I asked Ruby to finish this sentence: I'm very bad at... going with the flow. "I need to have control and I like to know what's going to happen.When I get changes, I like to know exactly how it fits into the rest of the story of my journey. I don't want to just start doing it. I like to have an understanding of it before I start working on it. I don't like to just jump in."

The biggest changes in this journey have occurred between Flat Rock and the Goodspeed Production. 
This journey has included three different directors.
Photo by Diane Sobolewski
When Ruby first got the script for this production, it was noticeably different from the last time.The cast was much smaller. The tone and language is changed.
Ruby could tell that the vision for the story was very different than it had been.
I asked Ruby what her favorite piece of work was prior to The Wizard of Oz.
Her response was Love Finds Andy Hardy.
Photo by Diane Sobolewski
She loves the songs that are in it. It has In Between and Meet the Beat of My Heart and It Never Rains But What It Pours. Ruby believes that it is in this film that she really starts to come into her own as an actor. Judy even admitted later on that when she started working with Mickey Rooney, she really felt confident about her abilities. This was her second film with Mickey, the first being Thoroughbreds Don't Cry.     
You can see in Love Finds Andy Hardy, that they are very comfortable with each other. You can really see they work together on screen.
 Ruby tells me that early on all that she knew of Judy was as 'the legend', not as a 'person'. She didn't know anything about her life. The older material in which Judy is so raw and open and emotional was a little scary and intimidating to Ruby.
Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Now that Ruby has all the background information, she can see where the older Judy is coming from and appreciate her talent and the ability to be so vulnerability in her music. That no longer scares Ruby.

If there was one piece of art that happened in Judy's career that Ruby would love to replicate if she could, that would be the Carnegie Hall concert.
She loves the arrangements. She loves the medleys. She would love to someday sing with a full orchestra like that. She loves listening to that.
As far as Chasing Rainbows is concerned, one year from now the desire is to be on Broadway.
Even though Ruby has been in the business a short while, when she was younger, she always hated the fact that someone eighteen to twenty-one  would be cast to play fifteen or sixteen when there was someone age appropriate to play the part.
Usually it was because there was
Ruby, John Fricke, Michael Wartella
less paperwork involved regarding tutors, guardians, etc. Now that she is over, she gets it. The problem that still bothers her the most is the business part. That part isn't taught and you are on your own to figure it out as you move forward based on trial and error and figuring it out. Hopefully there won't be too many mistakes that are too large or irreparable. Ruby really likes the rehearsal process. She really likes getting to have a great collaboration with a director. She has especially loved that this time around. Having been part of this journey, she feels that she really knows who this character is and she feels like she now has a fully formed opinion about things and she can fully collaborate and discuss with the director about choices being made because she now is a fully formed actor.
As stated before, Ruby started taking dance lessons when she was two.
A Younger Ruby
She was in dance competitions from first through sixth grade. Voice lessons began she was eight. Her first voice teacher was big on cabaret and jazz. When Ruby was ten, she was the youngest in a cabaret class. She learned mic technique and she was learning about the great singers like Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald, etc.
Something tells me that Ruby will take her place among the greats. She already has as far as I'm concerned.   

Photo by Diane Sobolewski
I think she completely embodied Judy Garland, especially as she did the jazz/swing numbers. "Dorothy" often eclipses our awareness of what a talented vocalist she was! Virginia Wolf, host of "SpotLight; Radio Reveling in Arts and Entertainment" on WMRD Radio

And here is a statement from Tina Marie Casamento Libby:
Ruby's headshot along with an early make-up test for Judy as Dorothy
Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Above is her resume photo from when I first heard her sing. The nose, the face. When she first auditioned for us, she was excited but nervous and the team was not completely seeing what I saw. I knew that she had the essence, and the talent. she just needed a chance and some confidence. She has that in droves now. I believed in her.
I saw her at a large "panel" audition at BAA. I brought her in for the team, after doing a little more digging on her. The rest is history.

Michael Wartella and Ruby Rakos Photo credit: Katie Kearns
What really brings this story to life on the Goodspeed stage is an extremely talented cast, led by Ruby Rakos who shines as Frances/Judy. Ms. Rakos captures the essence of Garland's powerhouse voice, her unique vocal style, and her girl-next-door appeal. Every time she opens her mouth to sing, something bold, beautiful, and brilliant comes out. Ms. Rakos shows the real Judy, not just the girl we know from the movies, but the girl who shoulders the burden of providing for her family, the girl with a crush on her best friend (as well as Clark Gable), and the girl who wants, more than anything to be a star.
-  Joseph Harrison, BWW Review: CHASING RAINBOWS: THE ROAD TO OZ at Goodspeed Opera House

Ruby Rakos is an astounding Judy Garland, with a huge voice.

- Review: Goodspeed Premieres “Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz”
October 31, 2016 Mark G. Auerbach, Take

Click HERE to see I'm Nobody's Baby! Ruby Rakos sings Judy Garland— Broadway Artists at Birdland NYC 4/28/2014

Chasing Rainbows


An awkward girl with a golden voice blossoms into Judy Garland in the inspirational new musical about the bumpy road to "Oz." The future superstar's complicated childhood comes alive with heartbreak, hope and the music that made her famous. "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," "You Made Me Love You" and "Over the Rainbow" sweeten the story of Judy striving to hold onto her family. A love letter to gifted underdogs who reach high—and how the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.

Ruby, Michael Wartella as Mickey Rooney, and Berklea Going as Lana Turner  | Photo by Diane Sobolewski

Book by Marc Acito | Conceived by Tina Marie Casamento Libby Music Adapted by David

Libby | Scenic Design by Kristen RobinsonCostume Design by Elizabeth Caitlin WardLighting Design by Ken Billington | Sound Design by Jay HiltonWig & Hair Design by Mark Adam RampmeyerMusic Direction by Michael O'Flaherty | Choreographed by Chris Bailey
Directed by Tyne Rafaeli
Through November 27th. Please Visit for More info
As you can see, we have a LOT to be proud of. We also have a lot to be concerned about. 
Let's all agree to celebrate that pride in each other! 
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Thank you, to all mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!

With grateful XOXOXs from YOUR pro-active friend,

Check out my site celebrating the legacy of Call on Dolly: From Carol to Bette!


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    

Richard Skipper Celebrates...December 9th 7PM at the Triad. featured guests will INCLUDE Kevin Dozier, Peggy Eason, Eddie Korbich, Marieann Meringolo Lisa Viggiano...AND A Mystery Guest*! Bryon Sommers, Musical Director with Jeff Carney on bass and Rex Benincasa on percussion.
Richard Skipper Celebrates: A Talk/Variety Show encouraging us to celebrate each and every day and the hidden gems therein. Did you know A Charlie Brown Christmas Debuted in 1965...Buck Henry, Margaret Hamilton, Dalton Trumbo, Douglas Fairbanks Jr were all born on December 9th? Wear Purple! The Ruling Color Of The Day and The Color of Royalty! Tickets are $30.00 plus a two drink minimum. Reservations a MUST! Call 888 596-1027 to purchase tickets or YOU can also do it on THEIR website.
*Previous Mystery Guests have included Hillary Kole, Melba Moore, and Stacy Sullivan
Boy Do we Need it NOW! 

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!
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