Matthew Martin is Judy Garland: Local drag star returns to Oasis

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday June 25, 2024
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Matthew Martin as Judy Garland (photo: Randall Whitehead)
Matthew Martin as Judy Garland (photo: Randall Whitehead)

Matthew Martin is well known, even beloved, for his portrayals of Hollywood's legendary leading ladies. Especially acclaimed for his interpretations of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (his staging of Crawford's legendary swan song "Trog" was a smash at Oasis), Martin has in fact brought his unique take on numerous other Hollywood superstars to the Oasis stage. On July 4, 5, and 6, Martin will return to Oasis, appearing as queer icon Judy Garland.

In an interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Martin explained why Garland made such an indelible impression on the gay male community, and why, more than 50 years after her passing, she continues to resonate with gay men.

"I believe it was survivor syndrome," he said. "Judy made many comebacks after falls from grace throughout her career. There's a great song 'I'll Show Them All' that Steve Allen had written and that Judy performed, and that captures the struggle. Gay men have had similar strife historically, and Judy embodied the will to not only succeed but triumph."

Martin stands out among female impersonators as he never created a "drag name." He has always performed as himself, as he always wants the audience to know that it's him performing. It was years later that he came to understand why so many performers have created drag personas.

"It was an anonymous protection from any repercussions for performing in drag," he said. "Interesting how history is repeating itself recently, ironically, with the criminalization of drag in some parts of the country."

Matthew Martin (photo: Darwin Bell)  

Good Eve-ning
Martin's fascination with the legendary ladies of Hollywood goes back to his childhood. He recalled being ten years old, holding up a tape recorder to the television when the classic film "All About Eve" was on to record the delicious dialogue so he could commit it to memory. At that age he didn't quite understand the sophisticated screenplay, only that he needed to memorize and perform it. He also made a collage of images of Davis, Crawford, Garland and other Golden Age superstars.

"Little did I know that I was creating a vision board of my future as I later portrayed many of the stars included in the collage," Martin said. "I knew before I knew. I was always fascinated by the legendary luminaries on screen in classic films as they spoke to me from an early age. The glamour, the drama, the dialogue, the storylines; everything mesmerized me."

He listened to "Warner Brothers: 50 Years of Film," an album that featured excerpts from various classic movies.

"This was my schoolroom, being introduced to many stars and the movies that they were in," he said. "I was obsessed with all of them from the very beginning."

These days Garland is remembered as a tragic figure whose life was filled with unhappy relationships as she battled drug addiction. Her death at age 47 of an accidental overdose is considered to be one of the saddest tales ever to come out of Hollywood. But people who knew Garland often tell a different story, as Martin explained.

Career turns
"Those who knew Judy personally say that she was the funniest person they knew," he said. "She had a wicked sense of humor and a great self-deprecating awareness of herself. I include a monologue in my show that are her words verbatim which demonstrate that humor about herself. She did not take herself seriously and was able to take the ups and downs of her life and career and laugh about them. Yes, she had tragic turns, certainly, but I think there was more joy than sorrow."

When he takes to the stage at Oasis, Martin will be performing a concert not unlike Garland's 1960s television show. He will be joined by his friend Tom Shaw on the piano.

"It will be intimate and insightful," he said. "I hope to bring her essence as a person to the stage, not only as a performer."

He'll be performing some of her classic songs, including the nearly fifteen-minute "Born in a Trunk" medley that she did in "A Star is Born." He'll also be doing some of Garland's more obscure songs, such as "Cottage for Sale."

"Her rendition of that song shows what an incredible actress Judy was," Martin said. "She lived the lyrics of the songs she sang. 'Me and My Shadow' is another ballad of hers that I'll be doing. Some songs that are lesser known, perhaps, but no less great."

As with all the parts he plays, Martin leaves himself backstage and becomes the character as much as possible.

"I feel that Judy is a dear friend of many years and reflect who she is," he said. "Without being too method about the performance, don't play the part, be the part you are playing. Believe it, so the audience will as well."

'Matthew Martin is Judy Garland,' $40-$50, July 4, 5, & 6, 7pm, Oasis, 298 11th St.

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