A tornado has hit the Belasco Theatre and her name is Tracie Bennett. She is portraying Judy Garland as we’ve never seen her before. Popping pills. Getting drunk. Cursing. Crawling across the floor. Bitterly arguing. And singing her heart and soul out in the new play “End of the Rainbow” by Peter Quilter which is terrifically directed by Terry Johnson.
Tracie Bennett incredibly conveys the “essence” of Garland. She’s got the stance. The laugh. The legs and the hair. Whether wearing high heels or in her stocking feet, she’s got the catch in her throat. The dramatic reaching for the notes. And all of the quirks that made Garland, Garland. Her on stage confidence always at odds with her off stage insecurities make for an extremely riveting scenario.
Stepping into the shoes of such a beloved icon as Garland is one thing, especially a pair of red shoes. But bringing Judy to vivid life with an energy that seems boundless is quite another. And then singing some of Garland’s most memorable hits and making them her own while channeling all our ingrained images of this sad “fragile old woman” of 47 – make this a performance beyond compare.
Taking place in the Ritz Hotel in London 1968 (beautifully rendered by William Dudley which seamlessly becomes The Talk of The Town concert venue) Garland is down and almost out. It’s her finale chance at having a comeback and making some money to pay off the mound of bills that she has incurred.
Her soon to be fifth husband, Mickey Deans (hunky Tom Pelphrey) whom she had recently met in a New York Club is tall, handsome, strong minded and at least ten years younger has become her manager and bedmate. He is her gofer. Her protector. And as it turns out, her big mistake.
As she calls him on stage to share her spotlight you see exactly what he’s got in mind, basking in all her glory and reveling in the attention surrounding her and now himself.
As her lovable, gay Scottish accompanist and friend Anthony, a solid Michael Cumpsty tries his best to keep her on the straight and narrow, even offering a marriage of sorts which is quite endearing and believable in one of the finest scenes of Act II.
Jay Russell as a BBC Interviewer has his hands full with an intoxicated Garland but manages to hold his own.
The spot on costumes by William Dudley bring back the style and the glamour that were Garland’s trademarks.
Superb Musical Arrangements (Gareth Valentine) and Orchestrations (Chris Egan) of “The Man That Got Away” “The Trolley Song” “When You’re Smiling” and “Come Rain or Come Shine” among others make for a sensational entertaining and eye opening look into Garland’s last months with all her demons bared in this play which has some minor drawbacks.
But what is lacking in the script is overpowered by Tracie Bennett’s bravura performance. Her frantic heartbreaking descent, with her makeup smudged and her voice cracking culminate in a most moving “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” – a most fitting and fulfilling finale for “End of the Rainbow”. It’s a performance not to be missed.
www.EndOfTheRainbowBroadway.com Photo: Carol Rosegg
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