INDIANAPOLIS — When Scott Robinson met Georgeanna Teipen, he knew it: he’d found his Judy.
Robinson, a Hancock County native and director of local community theater productions, had for years wanted to stage a play about the life of Judy Garland, but he needed just the right person to portray the actress who has enchanted him for decades.
Enter Teipen, stage left. The pair first worked together at Buck Creek Playhouse in 2012 during “The Drowsy Chaperone” and then again on “Carrie: The Musical” in 2014.
There was something about Teipen’s look and talent that got Robinson thinking about the Hollywood sweetheart from over the rainbow.
Fast-forward two years, and Teipen is set to star in “The Property Known as Garland,” with Robinson finally directing the show he’s been dying to put on the stage.
The show runs weekends through Jan. 31 at Buck Creek Playhouse, 11150 Southeastern Ave.
The show was originally written for playwright Billy Van Zandt’s wife, actress Adrienne Barbeau, to play Judy. In 2006, it ran off-Broadway at the Actors Playhouse in New York City for 68 performances.
Like Robinson, Teipen said she feels drawn to Garland. She notes she might even owe something to the actress for her love of theater. Her first stage appearance, as a third-grader in her hometown library talent show, was singing, “Ring Them Bells,” a song made famous by Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli.
Before “The Property Known as Garland,” Van Zandt’s plays leaned toward comedy and farce, making his tribute to the actress quite different from anything he’d written before, Robinson said.
“It’s really a love letter to Judy Garland, a tribute to her spirit and humor,” Robinson said.
The setting for “The Property Known as Garland” is backstage at the Folkener Center in Copenhagen on what turns out to be the night of Garland’s last performance. Garland tells stories in her dressing room, interrupted occasionally by a stage manager, played by Indy area stand-up comedian Steve Jerk.
Teipen, whose is by day a Hancock County deputy prosecutor, has her work cut out for her, with 51 pages of lines to memorize and few cues to keep her on track.
She is pleased by Robinson’s confidence in her ability to handle the legendary stature of the woman who charmed audiences as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Teipen was apprehensive about the role, she said, but she wasn’t about to say no.
It’s been a broadening experience for Teipen, who said she is typically more drawn to musicals.
Her research into the character has included hours of Garland documentaries, old TV show appearances and countless video clips on YouTube.
With help from make-up and wig artist Daniel Klingler, Teipen bears an uncanny resemblance to the actress, who died in 1969, but the biggest challenge is mimicking Garland’s voice.
“She has a certain kind of intonation,” Teipen said, “and she tends to stutter a little, searching for words.”
Much of the dialogue in the script is taken from actual interviews Garland gave over the years, Robinson said. As he was reading through the script for the first time, he recognized bits and pieces of conversation from appearances on “The Tonight Show” and “The Merv Griffin Show.”
“The Property Known as Garland” also includes anecdotes from Judy’s childhood, her relationship with her mother and her experiences with MGM.
Teipen hopes that her performance will go beyond the Garland everyone knows from movies and expose how the events of her life affected her.
“By the time you walk out of there,” Teipen said, “there isn’t much you won’t know about her.”
Through the course of rehearsal, Teipen has gained great insight into who Garland was behind the scenes, a woman who struggled financially and emotionally despite her fame. She’s regarded as a tragic figure, having long struggled with drugs and alcohol before she died of an overdose, but her method of coping in life, Teipen said, was humor.
And, like the woman who will portray her on stage, Garland took joy in her craft.
“As alone as she was, she felt loved by her audiences. The stage was one of the only places she ever felt loved,” Teipen said.
What: “The Property Known as Garland”
Where: Buck Creek Playhouse 11150 Southeastern Ave. Indianapolis
When: Performances Jan. 22, 23, 24, 29, 30, 31
Visit: buckcreekplayers.com for more information