|The amazing Tracie Bennett as J.G.|
You don't have to be gay to like End of the Rainbow but, as they say, it helps. Ben Brantley gave it a rave in The New York Times.
"As befits a play about Judy Garland, a woman known for liberally mixing her pills, Peter Quilter’s 'End of the Rainbow' is a jolting upper and downer at the same time. After watching Tracie Bennett’s electrifying interpretation of Garland in the intense production that opened on Monday night at the Belasco Theater, you feel exhilarated and exhausted, equally ready to dance down the street and crawl under a rock," wrote the critic.
Rainbow is most definitely a theatrical star vehicle with the star giving an absolute tour de force performance. Tracie Bennett flies around the stage more than Spiderman, and she's not on wires! (Though "wired" is a good way to describe her performance.) When it comes to booze-and-pills-soaked egomania mixed with an unending neediness, Judy Garland puts Neely O'Hara (her counterpart from the Jacqueline Susann roman a clef, Valley of the Dolls) to shame, if we are to believe playwright Quilter's dramatization, which is certainly part fiction, part legend, part truth.
|The real Judy with 5th hubby, Mickey Deans|
Besides Ms Bennett's brilliant performance, she receives strong support from Tom Pelphrey as husband-to-be Mickey Deans, Michael Cumpsty as the fictitious pianist, and Jay Russell in an array of bit parts.
The set that transforms itself from Garland's London hotel suite to the Talk of the Town theater (where a flat-broke Judy is attempting to stage another comeback) and back again is very cleverly constructed, with the show's great orchestra seen behind a scrim in the Talk of the Town sequences. Ms Bennett covers all of Garland's biggest hits ("The Man That Got Away," "Come Rain or Come Shine") to ironic effect within the context of the script.
Judy was fired from the making of the film, Valley of the Dolls, for being unreliable on the set. She left with her Helen Lawson costume (replica worn in the play). Judy's film role then went to Susan Hayward. As Helen Lawson roars in the movie: "Broadway doesn't go for booze and dope!"
Obviously, she was wrong.
At the Belasco Theater, 111 West 44th Street, Manhattan, (212) 239-6200, telecharge.com.
Below, an alcohol-and-pills-fueled Judy talks into a tape recorder in an attempt to put together some raw data about her life for a planned autobiographical book. (She died before these tapes could produce anything coherent for publication.) As a narrative, this is almost unintelligible. But, emotionally, it is real; unprocessed and unrefined. Judy's rage and sarcasm make me think that End of the Rainbow is far from exaggerated or fabricated. This YouTube entry is from the hard-to find bootleg cd, Judy Garland Speaks.