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Monday, 09 April 2012 22:22

Broadway Review: END OF THE RAINBOW

Written by
Michael Cumpsty and Tracie Bennett Michael Cumpsty and Tracie Bennett Photo: Carol Rosegg

Tracie Bennett’s performance as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow is as exhausting to watch, as it must be to perform. With all of her ups and downs and neurotic behaviour, Bennett’s Garland is an emotionally needy child.  Anyone who’s ever been a parent can understand how exhausting that is.  When told at one point by her fiancé that she can’t drink, Garland’s response is a typically childish one, “Sid would have let me” (a reference to her previous husband, Sid Luft).

You never doubt for a second that Bennett is Judy.  She has both Ms. Garland’s singing voice and speaking voice down perfectly.  Her energy seems boundless.  Ms. Bennett played the role in London’s West End prior to bringing the show to Broadway.

The setting is the Ritz Hotel, London, December 1968. Ms. Garland and her fiancé Mickey Deans (Tom Pelfrey) have just arrived in London for five weeks of performances at The Talk of the Town. Deans is also acting as Ms. Garland’s manager and handling all her decisions.  He attempts to control her drinking and pill-popping, but eventually resorts to enabling her just to get her on stage.

Michael Cumpsty is Anthony, Garland’s musical director and pianist.  Anthony and Judy have an instantaneous connection, she had worked with him previously in a disastrous show in Sydney. this makes Mickey jealous, even if Anthony is a gay man.  

As Anthony, Michael Cumpsty is droll and to the point.  His sarcasm runs deep.  Tom Pelphrey’s performance as Mickey is not as three-dimensional as Ms. Bennett’s or Mr. Cumpsty’s.

Garland rehearses for her new show in her hotel room with a baby grand piano.  We move back and forth between the hotel room and the stage of The Talk of the Town by flying out the upstage wall of the hotel suite revealing a six-man combo on a bandstand.  When that wall flies out, the show pops and Judy is on.  

Ms. Bennett covers many of the most famous songs associated with Garland: “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “Just in Time,” “For Me and My Gal,” “You Made Me Love You,” “The Man That Got Away,” “When You’re Smiling,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and of course, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  Ms. Bennett has a big voice and has managed to precisely duplicate Ms. Garland’s vibrato and vocal mannerisms, channeling Judy.  The band behind her, under the direction of Jeffrey Saver is smokin’.  Director Terry Johnson has kept the show simple and efficient.

Peter Quilter’s script appears to be factually correct, with liberties taken here and there.  Part of the problem is, there isn’t anything revelatory in it.  It doesn’t delve into Judy’s psyche beyond her known addiction to pills, alcohol and men.  His Judy is superficially self-deprecating with an insatiable demand for attention.  It’s like that friend that always has to be the center of attention, the person who sucks the oxygen out of the room.

End of the Rainbow is enjoyable due to its dynamo star, Tracie Bennett, and her ability to completely capture the essence of the Judy we all think we know.  

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Last modified on Friday, 13 April 2012 14:46