Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Review: Amazing Evening at End of The Rainbow

End of the Rainbow
There are certain performances I have the privilege of saying I witnessed. Glenn Close as Norma Desmond. Hugh Jackman as Peter Allen. Tyne Daly as Mama Rose. Frank Gorshin as George Burns.

Now I can add Tracie Bennett as Judy Garland to the list.

Seeing her in the play "End of the Rainbow" is watching a masterclass on acting. Not only did I feel as if I was in the room with Judy herself, but I knew I was in the presence of an actress who takes her job seriously. Who understands 
commitment to a role. And she throws every ounce of her heart and soul into what she is doing.

This play with music by Peter Quilter chronicles the life of the star just months prior to her death as she returns to a five week engagement in London with her new fiancé Mickey Deans and friend/pianist Anthony. We go from the hotel room where Garland is staying (and unable to pay her bills) to on stage of the concert (with an exciting live band that adds such dimension as Garland performs under the influence and pushes tempos to a frenzy). What a concert Ms. Bennett is giving us as if we are truly reliving the moment.

Garland in 1968
There have been so many bio-pics on this beloved woman, but Quilter has chosen to zero in on one particular time to give us a glimpse into her life. The role of Anthony (played by the wonderful Michael Cumpsty) represents the adoring gay men in Judy's life. Both those she's turned to for comfort (and times-marriage) and those that admire her from afar. Mickey Deans was her fifth husband and Tom Pelphrey has a bit of tougher time with this character the way it was written. (Depending on accounts you read/believe - Quilter has chosen to display Deans as a type of pusher as if Garland could not make certain decisions on her own.) I also felt Pelphrey went over the top on some of his if the TV actor has been told bigger is always better for the stage. But that aside - I still wholeheartedly recommend people run and get tickets to this show.

Tracie Bennett
There have been so many Judy Garland impersonators through the years (both men and women) and I've seen several. And I'm sure you can google and find gay men debating over this play online...but Bennett is not doing an impersonation. She is acting. And she is acting at its finest. She has created a character (notice I don't say caricature) that is palpable and amazing to watch on this roller coaster. How she can sustain the highs and lows each evening in this show is truly beyond me. I was utterly exhausted by the end...and yet it stuck with me as I went to sleep in such a melancholy mood over Judy Garland. I was only born two months prior to her death, but still stunned when you hear she was only 47 when she died. We see photos. We see a woman 20 years beyond that. We grieve such a talented loss at such an early age.

But Ms. Bennett brings her back to life every night in this play. And that is worth the price of admission.        

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