Tracie Bennett as Judy Garland in END OF THE RAINBOW.
BOTTOM LINE: A phenomenal performance by Tracie Bennett in the touching tale of legendary Judy Garland near her end.
End of the Rainbow opened this week at the Belasco Theatre. Under the sturdy direction of Terry Johnson (Tony Award-winning director of last season's La Cage aux Folles), the indefatigable Tracie Bennett (two-time Olivier winner for She Loves Me and Hairspray) brings to life Peter Quilter’s dramatization of the final comeback attempt by troubled legend Judy Garland, along with dreamy Tom Pelphrey, versatile Jay Russell, and the heart-warming Michael Cumpsty.
In 1968, Judy Garland goes to London with her brand new fiancé Mickey Deans (Tom Pelphrey) to perform an exhausting five-week engagement at London’s Talk of the Town. This show will be a comeback and a stopgap for Garland’s precarious financial situation. Six months later she will be dead. End of the Rainbow peers into this tumultuous and desperate point in Garland’s life both through stage performances and in her hotel room at the London Ritz. Deans and her accompanist (Michael Cumpsty) try to help her in their contradicting ways.
End of the Rainbow premiered in 2005 at the Sydney Opera House and then toured before its lauded run on the West End from 2010-2011. The show made its stateside debut at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis in January 2012 before transferring to the Belasco Theatre on Broadway in March.
Speaking of, the Belasco is still looking fresh and fabulous from its 2010 renovation. It has all the grandeur expected of a Broadway house but without any fading. It’s truly beautiful and lends an ideal air of glamour for Judy’s story.
Tracie Bennett triumphs in a tour de force performance fueled by uncanny energy and just the right touch of camp. Bennett’s Garland is spot on, but she drapes the impersonation over a genuine portrayal of a woman in turmoil allowing the audience to recognize both the persona and the person. And that voice! The sound is distinctly Judy and filled with emotion and verve. It impossible to decide whether Bennett shines brighter in her nuanced scene work or her exuberant musical numbers. One thing is clear, though: Bennett’s Judy is both a flawless characterization and dramatic performance that leaves audiences mesmerized and cheering for more!
William Dudley’s (The Woman in White) stunning sets and costumes aptly contrast first the grandeur and glamour of a Victorian hotel room against the grit and flash of a tacky nightclub, then a sparkling stage costume against a limp, black slip. These telling designs are offset by Christopher Akerlind’s (Porgy and Bess) dramatic and evocative lighting.
End of the Rainbow is a compelling and epic journey exploring one woman’s battle against backsliding and bad habits. It tackles addiction, depression, and devotion of Olympian scale. While some may find the ending neat, the artful script is a loving dramatization of a legend’s life that grants humanity both to Judy and to those who loved her.
This is an exceptional show and an astounding performance that you don’t want to miss. The hype is true!
(End of the Rainbow plays at the Belsco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. Performances are Mondays through Saturdays at 8PM, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2PM. Beginning April 9th, performances are Tuesdays at 7PM; Wednesdays at 2PM and 8PM; Thursdays at 7PM; Fridays at 8PM; Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM; and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $31.50-$199.50 and are available at telecharge.com or by calling 212.239.6200.)