END OF THE RAINBOW
by Peter Quilter.
Tour to 26 November 2011.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 2 September at Royal and Derngate (Royal auditorium) Northampton.
Two triumphant performances in story of the rainbow’s sad end.
Who could have known, among the audiences lapping-up MGM’s fantasy-world of Oz in 1939, that its happy Dorothy was part-created by taping 17-year old Judy Garland’s breasts to preserve a girlish look, while she was energised during the shoot by studio-supplied drugs?
Peter Quilter’s play shows the rainbow ending, thirty years on from Oz, in a repro-elegant London hotel, where Garland stays (though without paying, causing management wrath) while performing at The Talk of the Town. A few months later she was dead, aged 47.
London critics commented on the interplay of woman and myth already woven around her. A star she stayed, but the voice was going. Quilter gives us Garland at her singing height in the first act numbers, before showing – in Terry Johnson’s as-ever precise and pointed production – the problems that couldn’t be hidden. This 2011 production details what the 1969 reviews reported: Garland caught in the mike flex, the asperity toward her band, a ragged-edge voice.
The womanhood denied her 1939 appearance had meant four broken marriages (though they produced Liza Minnelli and Lorna Luft); a fifth looms. The energy-sustaining drugs of her teen years had led to the dependency that’s destroying her.
Tracie Bennett fully achieves the most difficult thing for any actor – to suggest star-quality. It’s not surprising; at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio in 1997 she gave a star-turn as alternative guilty and innocent versions of alleged Victorian killer Florence Bravo. Her Garland has an even greater physicality, relishing acting a dog, being flung about in struggles over drugs.
As a singer she seems Garland reborn: in voice, energetic prowling of the stage, the iconic raised right arm as climactic salute in the upbeat songs.
There’s quiet detail in contrast from Hilton McRae’s Anthony, her gay pianist. Always considerate, often tolerant, he’d be better for her than fiancée Mickey, who eventually cracks in the fight to keep her drug-free. Contrasting Bennett’s overt energy, McRae provides a concentrated, watchful attention. If she’d settled with Anthony, Quilter suggests, Judy might have lived. But if she could have lived such a quiet life, she wouldn’t have been Garland.
Judy: Tracie Bennett.
Anthony: Hilton McRae.
Mickey: Norman Bowman.
Radio Interviewer/Porter/ASM: Robert Maskell.
Director: Terry Johnson.
Designer: William Dudley.
Lighting: Simon Corder.
Sound: Gareth Owen.
Music Arranger: Chris Egan.
Musical Supervisor: Gareth Valentine.
Musical Director: Jon Ranger.
Associate director: Simon James Green.