When David de Alba was living in Cuba, he never dreamed he would grow up to perform as Judy Garland.
“I started performing as a boy dancer,” de Alba said. “I did dances from Cuba and Brazil and things like that. But I was told it was difficult to have a career as a dancer unless you got into a review or you were Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly.”
One night, while working at a club in Chicago, it was suggested that he try dressing in drag so he had a beautician do his hair and makeup.
“When he was done, he told me, ‘Do you know you look like Judy Garland?’ and I saw myself in the mirror and I could see it, too,” de Alba said. “He said I should do an act as her, but I didn’t want to lip sync, which was what a lot of them did in those days and still do today.”
He couldn’t afford to record arrangements of her songs without the vocal track, so for his first shows, he performed to her music and sang along as if he was singing a duet with Garland. It wasn’t until later when he performed at Finocchio’s, a San Francisco club well-known for its cross-dressing performers, that he had a track made by the house band.
At 2 p.m. Nov. 24, de Alba plans to bring his show “Dorothy…The Later Years, A Live Tribute to Judy Garland” to the Onyx Theatre, 953-16B E. Sahara Ave.
“The show is a mix of performance and anecdotes,” de Alba said. “Some of them are my stories and some are ones Judy told on stage.”
De Alba plans to change costumes frequently during the 90-minute show.
He said he was lucky enough to see Garland perform three times and meet her backstage nine months before her death in 1969.
“My mother was with me, and she told Judy how much I loved her and her work,” de Alba said. “I told her about my act, and she said she wanted to see it but she was flying out to London the next day.”
De Alba’s Paradise home is full of memorabilia from the star, who is best known for performing as Dorothy in the classic 1939 version of “The Wizard of Oz.” He owns shoes she wore in one of her later films and a sequined jacket she wore on her TV musical variety show. The walls are covered with vintage posters from her films. Along the stairwell are photos of famous performers he worked with and met over the years.
“I’ve watched all of her films on video and everything I could find on YouTube,” de Alba said. “I’ve spent so much time looking at the makeup and the mouth and the earrings and the hairdo. I’m like a sponge, grabbing and grabbing and grabbing so that by the time I get on the stage, I’ve got so much out of her that I almost lose awareness that I am David. I become Judy on stage at times because I take myself out and put her in.”
Tickets are $20 for VIP seating and $15 for general admission. For more information, visit onyxtheatre.com or call 702-732-7225.
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4532.