LISA Maxwell reveals that when she was first offered the chance to play the great Judy Garland on stage she refused point blank.

"I just said 'I'm not going anywhere near it', she confides. "I'd seen the show and knew how good it was. I didn't want to put my name to it and not do it justice."

Thankfully for theatre audiences, Lisa was persuaded to change her mind and is at Manchester Opera House in End of the Rainbow from Tuesday.

The award-winning production is set primarily in the star's London hotel room as she battles the demons in her private life while trying to make a comeback at the Talk of the Town less than her year before her untimely death at 47.

"Playing Judy is a runaway train for me from the moment I step on to the stage," said former Loose Women presenter Lisa. "There is so much dialogue and then there are the songs."

The show requires Lisa to sing some of Judy Garland's most memorable numbers including The Man that Got Away, The Trolley Song and Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

"Judy Garland had this wonderful ability with a song to break your heart," said Lisa. "The important thing for me is not to just try and do an impression of her, that would not be fair to the audience.

"I put myself in their position and knew that if I went to the show I would want to be reminded of her so it was important that I got her vocal intonation and mannerisms right."

People who may only know Lisa through her time as a panellist on the daytime show Loose Women or even the eight years she spent on the long-running series The Bill may be surprised to see her starring in such a high profile theatre show.

"One of the reasons I decided to take on the role was that it is a fantastic opportunity to use everything I've done in my career."

Lisa first came to prominence on TV through the Russ Abbott Show in the Nineties. She also had her own series on the BBC.

"One of my concerns about playing Judy was that I hadn't really sung for 16 years," she said. "I just didn't want to do it badly.

"But the producers were so persistent and they put me in touch with a great vocal coach who was so encouraging.

"At the end of the day I had left Loose Women because I wanted to go back into acting and I just realised what a great opportunity I was being offered, I couldn't turn it down."

Lisa is quick to point out that End of the Rainbow isn't a typical stage musical.

"Yes there are some great songs in it," she said, "but it's a show full of emotion and humour. It is also quite an adult show as Judy is battling her own addictions and coping with a new relationship."

The production is essentially a three-hander with Judy's boyfriend Mickey played by former Hollyoaks and EastEnders star Sam Attwater and her loyal pianist Anthony played by Gary Wilmott.

"Sam and Gary are brilliant," she said. "Although we are both from a similar background, this is the first time that I have worked with Gary and we have a great laugh off stage."

In preparing for her role, Lisa has done her own research into Judy Garland's life.

"Back in her day we didn't know too much about the stars, particularly their private lives," she said. "But she was in turmoil much of the time.

"She wore her heart on her sleeve when so many people were very private. She always seemed to give so much of herself to her audience.

"A photographer was following her tour around this time and watched her give a fantastic live performance when she took the roof off the place but then after the concert she had to be taken away in a wheelchair as she had given so much.

"For me her story is no different from that of Amy Winehouse and it has a tremendous relevance for a younger audience.

"Her audiences could recognise how much she was putting into a performance."

And it would seem that today's theatregoers are having a similar experience with Lisa.

"The reaction we get every night is amazing," she said.

"But for me the best reaction of all came on the opening night of the tour.

"My husband and daughter Beau both went along and at the end Beau came up to me and just said, 'mum I didn't know you could do that.'

"That for me was job done."

End of the Rainbow, Manchester, Opera House, Tuesday, May 3 to Saturday, May 7. Details from 0844 871 3018.