By Patrick Christiano
The setting is a London hotel room December 1968 and Tracie Bennett, the Oliver Award winning actress, is Judy Garland preparing for yet another come back in Peter Quilter’s new play End of the Rainbow, directed by Tony Award winner Terry Johnson. The play arrives at the Belasco Theater by way of the Westend of London, where Bennett’s 2010 acclaimed portrayal of Garland was nominated for an Oliver Award. After debuting in the United States at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, End of the Rainbow opened on Broadway April 2 to consistently glowing reviews for Bennett’s bravado turn as Garland. Indeed the lady makes an electrifying Broadway debut as one of America’s treasured icons, and when she breaks into song she is mesmerizing in her eerily spot on interpretation of the Garland style and mannerisms.
The British tale that unfolds is based on real life events in Garland’s life a few months before her death from an overdose of drugs. Garland has come to London with Mickey Deans, her new young fiancé (Tom Peiphrey), to perform a series of concerts at the nightclub Talk of the Town. The play puts Garland at the center of a power struggle between her sweet gay Scottish pianist (Michael Cumpsty), who would like to help her take a rest, and her gigolo-like boyfriend, who has Judy temporarily off drugs and hopes her gig at the famed London club will restore their finances and put her career back on track. He was the last in a long line of men, who took advantage of the tragic idol.
The play, an attempt to document the conflicts that consumed one of America’s greatest artists, feels contrived and paints Judy in the worst possible light, as a shrewd manipulative drug addict losing control, frightened, and profoundly needy. The showy role is an actor’s dream and Bennett’s performance is extremely impressive with tempestuous rapid fire transitions, not to mention the show stopping songs. We get some of Garland’s signature numbers “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” The Trolley Song,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “The Man that Got Away,” and more. The never less than entertaining evening is often very funny, but a sad depiction. We get glimpses of Garland’s tenacity, talent, and razor sharp wit however, we are left unaffected by Garland’s struggles, because the play just doesn’t allow for this level of vulnerability.
Jay Russell appears in a variety of roles. Music director Jeff Saver leads a six-piece on-stage band backing up Bennett throughout the play with arrangements faithful to Garland’s originals. An album “Tracie Bennett Sings Judy: Songs from the Broadway Production of End of the Rainbow and other classics is available from Masterworks Broadway.
End of the Rainbow opened at the Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue, on April 2, 2012. The limited run has been extended until January 6, 2013. For tickets visit Telecharge.com or phone 212-239-6200 or go online to Endoftherainbowbroadway.com
Photos: Carol Rosegg
Follow Us On Facebook