End of the Rainbow
Towards the end of 1968 Judy Garland played a five week season at the Talk of the Town (formerly the Hippodrome) on Charing Cross Road. A few months later she was dead, the result of an accidental overdose of sleeping pills. End of the Rainbow is a concentrated picture of her struggles, and those of her new manager/fiancé and pianist to get her through those performances.
If there is anyone in the audience who doesn't already know about her drug and alcohol dependencies, her debts, her four previous marriages and her final romance with a man much younger than herself, it is all made very clear in a play that is full of pain and pathos. It is a picture of the moment, not a life story. The beginnings of her dependencies are mentioned but there is no space or time to explore the whys and wherefores (but then much of the audience will know those too).
At times it is also very funny, especially in a sequence after the diva gulps down the mange pills intended for the pianist's sister's dog.
Of course, there are her songs, eleven of them, just as an audience of Garland fans would expect. Some are slotted in as rehearsal in her Savoy Hotel apartment; for some the back wall of William Dudley's sumptuous set flies skywards to reveal the band and put us on Hippodrome stage.
It is very contrived and could easily become a tribute show but we get the on-stage nightmare as well as the battle offstage and Tracie Bennett as Judy is not imitating Garland. She has the vocal tremolo, the bold attack and has clearly studied Garland's gestures and choreography but this is an actress who has made the role her own, not an impersonation. This is a triumph for an accomplished performer and gets the kind of reception from the audience that they would have given to Judy herself
Stephen Hagan as fiancé Mickey Deans, trying to keep his lover on the straight and narrow, shows both real concern and a glimmer of the self-interest that may fuel him: a nicely balanced performance. Pianist Anthony is certainly suspicious of Mickey's intentions. He and Judy go back a long way and Hilton McRae gives a beautiful multi-layered performance that suggests the right mixture of devotion and exasperation as well as standing in for all those gay men who adored their Dorothy - and about whom this Garland is quite biting.
Terry Johnson's fluid production is a real audience pleaser. Quilter's script may not provide illumination but End of the Rainbow is a showcase for some fine performances.
Runs until 5th March 2011
Reviewer: Howard Loxton