End of the Rainbow

Posted on: 14 January 2011 by Rhian Mainwaring

A musical legend is given a remarkable new lease of life by actress and singer Tracie Bennett in Peter Quilter’s absorbing look at the last days of the great American diva Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow (Trafalgar Studios), directed by Terry Johnson.

Tracie Bennett End of the RainbowIt’s December 1968 and Judy Garland is on the comeback trail. She has come to London for a five week session at the Talk of the Town and is ensconced in her hotel room with her new young fiancé Mickey, a former discotheque manager, destined to become her fifth husband. She is also reunited with her loyal piano accompanist and confident Anthony, who advises her against marrying the new man in her life.

Initially clean and sober, it is not long before Garland is back to her old ways, battling a tornado of drugs and alcohol as she undertakes an exhausting series of concerts to try and reclaim her crown as the greatest talent of her generation. Despite a series of failed marriages and a wrecked Hollywood career, Judy remains a tough, compelling and determined woman always armed to the teeth with razor-sharp wit, yet sadly to have a premature death at the age of 47.

Director Terry Johnson sets the action mainly in a luxurious suite at the Ritz, which Judy complains at first is too small, designed in flamboyant rococo style by William Dudley. But the play, which presents a warts and all portrait of Garland, skilfully switches between private life and her public performances by moving hotel room to the stage at Talk of  the Town and back again.

The play more than makes up for its rather thin storyline by the fascinating insight it provides into Garland’s life and character. And for this full credit must be given to Tracie Bennett’s superb performance.

This is no mere impersonation by an actress who bears more than just a passing resemblance to Garland but it is as if she has been reborn, capturing all her ticks and mannerisms, tantrums and vulnerability, not forgetting that great voice.

Indeed when Bennett belts out such timeless classics as I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Just in Time, You Made Me Love You, The Trolley Song, The Man That Got Away and, most memorable of all Somewhere over the Rainbow, you feel as if you are actually watching Garland herself performing. Strong support is provided by Stephen Hagan as Mickey and Hilton McRae as Anthony.

A stunning theatrical achievement in which music and drama is seamlessly intertwined.

Plays until March 2011
Box office: 0844 871 7632 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            0844 871 7632      end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Theatre reviews by Laurence Green

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