THE launch of the 2016 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival held late last year may have had international drag superstar Courtney Act opening the evening’s festivities, but it was the closing number performed by a solitary figure that blew the crowd away.

Daniel Downing was singing a unique rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow from the iconic film Wizard of Oz.

“Like a lot of people, Wizard of Oz was one of my favourite movies growing up,” the NIDA graduate told Star Observer.

“I found a version on YouTube of Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Jeremy Jordan, an amazing Broadway singer, and I fell in love with arrangement.”

It was during his time as a cast member of the recent Australian production of Wicked: The Musical that Downing started looking a little more into the life and times of Judy Garland.

With difficulty, Downing managed to uncover a rare copy of the Garland autobiography penned by her fifth and final husband Mickey Deans entitled Weep No More, My Lady.

The story of Garland told through the eyes of Deans gave genesis to the cabaret show Almost Home written by and starring Downing, which will debut during this year’s Mardi Gras festival.

Garland may be a massive gay icon, but Downing believes even her biggest fans will be surprised to find out little-known details about her life.

“It was difficult for me to get the book, so I don’t think many people will have read it,” he said.

“(Deans is) telling incredible stories and things she told him about her life… she told Mickey things she would have only told to two or three other people.

“It’s interesting to have this perspective that has not really been explored before, particularly in Australia.”

Almost Home will use Garland’s own songs and have been rehashed by arranger and accompanist Bev Kennedy (Pricilla, Billy Elliot, We Will Rock You, The Lion King, Chicago) who helped put a unique spin on the music to tell her story through the eyes of her ex-husband.

“Bev had interesting ideas for the male arrangement… we turn some of Judy’s songs around and draw them out with what they’re saying,” Downing said.

Not only is Downing excited to be sharing the story of a gay icon such as Garland, he is also thrilled to be performing at his first Mardi Gras.

“I was honoured to be chosen to be part of the festival… hopefully it is as appealing to the audience as it is to us,” he said.

Downing believes festival goers will like Almost Home not only because of Garland’s gay icon, superstar status but also because she was an everyday person.

“It was amazing to read how normal she was. Everyone wants to feel love and be loved,” he said.

“All she wanted was love.”

Almost Home
Three shows only
Wednesday, March 2 at 8pm; Thursday, March 3; and Friday, March 4 at 8.30pm
Foundry 616, 616 Harris St, Ultimo, Sydney.
Tickets available here.

The Star Observer is a proud media partner of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Daniel Downing tells the story of Judy Garland through the eyes of her husband.

Daniel Downing tells the story of Judy Garland through the eyes of her husband.

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