Judy Garland Comes To Broadway: My Review

Categories: Theater

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"This is a room for midgets!" says aging icon Judy Garland (Tracie Bennett), surveying her British hotel room, which looks pretty large -- in fact, it takes up the entire stage.

But in Peter Quilter's End of the Rainbow, Judy's on a rampage, since the play is a revealing wallow into her final stretch in 1968.

The play-with-music has Judy's young new fiancé Mickey Deans (sort of the original David Gest, but worse) forbidding her to drink or do drugs, though he ends up desperately feeding pills to her so she'll get back onstage.

Add to the mix a gay pianist named Anthony (a very good Michael Cumpsty), who wants to save her from Deans's dealings, though his own agenda -- hoping to take Judy away and live with her -- doesn't appeal to the legend at all.

And so she's torn between a young man who says he loves her but ends up being an enabler and a worshipful representative of the gay community who wants to climb rainbows with her through eternity.

The best thing about the play -- which is interspersed with Judy performing numbers at London's Talk of the Town -- is that it doesn't string together lots of random biographical tidbits, like so many of these shows awkwardly do in order to sum up a life.

The play is very much about a particular moment.

Another good thing is Bennett.

With a hint of Tallulah in her quivering put-downs and a soupçon of Mimi Hines, Bennett is a firework as Judy.

The only problem for me is that even at her most manic, Judy wasn't this manic.

There must have been moments when she wasn't "Judy Garland."

In Act One, Bennett moves and is "on" on every syllable, whether tapping her knuckles on the couch, puffing away, or flailing her arms about.

When performing, her voice is smokily powerful, but she's flouncing around the stage like a puppet at times. The extreme athleticism is a little bit baffling, and it can be exhausting to watch.

But in a radio interview where she's seated, Bennett does brilliantly, showing the distraction and uneasiness with subtle strokes.

And Act Two starts with her sitting and being made up by Anthony, another scene in which she's eerily on target.

And you'll never forget the bit where Bennett's Judy accidentally takes a pill meant for a dog with mange and ends up on all fours! It's an absolute riot and shows Judy in an endearing self-mocking mode.

By the end, you might feel this is over the top rather than over the rainbow, but you still admire the talent and chutzpah that never got away.


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20 comments
Discounted Theatre Tickets
Discounted Theatre Tickets

well besides all the stuff written above which is so true and informative, the surprising thing in the page is her beauty at that age, which is shown off in the picture above.

Tony Adams
Tony Adams

Have a look at the real Judy of 1968. http://youtu.be/rD44UDrdKSM This is distressing. Skip to the 5 minute mark to see the valiant attempt she makes to tell a funny story while Mike Douglas and Peter Lawford do their best to cover for her bizarre condition. Sad.

billyjoe
billyjoe

Quiet Please! There's a lady on the stage...

Southern Dave
Southern Dave

Methinks that spirited disagreements are gonna help make this show a hit.

Jessie
Jessie

I went to the opening night of END OF THE RAINBOW in London...and walked out after the first act. This play is an exploitive, amateurish, vulgar, mean-spirited, piece of garbage. Inaccurate, offensive and vile. And as for Miss Bennett, I've seen queens who look like Ed Asner do better, classier Judy Garland impressions.

MSpeer
MSpeer

Your review is right on the money. I had the same thought about Tracey's performance at times being a little too manic. Some amateur video of Judy just after her wedding to Mickey Deans in March of 1969 showed a very very frail woman. The acrobatics during Tracey's performance of Come Rain or Come Shine just seemed a little unlikely and over the top. But I enjoyed the show--and her performance--although I know there are those fans who are appalled at the whole thing.

mjm
mjm

wonder if Liza's gonna see it? probably not...

Musto
Musto

Ben Brantley raved about Bennett in the Times. But on Huffington Post, critic David Finkle called the show "character assassination" and elaborated that it's a "fifth rate work" that features a "second-rate impersonation." In case you were starting to think maybe he liked it, Finkle concluded that the whole affair is a "miserable enterprise" designed to make money off Judy's corpse. Strangely, several hours later, his review was "removed at the request of the blogger."

Southern Dave
Southern Dave

How is Bennett's approximation of Garland's voice? Reviews of the British album weren't very good.

Your mentioning Mimi Hines set the hairs on the back of my neck to go up.Hines has a GREAT voice, is an itty-bitty thing and might make a great Garland. Last time I saw her, she was in one of the "Nunsense" tours with Kaye Ballard and Darlene Love.

Your review, despite equivocations, makes me want to hop on a plane.

Does she sing Johnny Meyer's'"I'd Like to Hate Myself in the Morning (But Raise a Little Hell Tonight)"? She sang it at London's Talk of the Town, which is the period the play covers, right?

Luv
Luv

This is a great review. You are so fair and insightful.

exackerly
exackerly

Well from everything I've read, Judy pretty much was always on. She didn't know any other way to behave. 

Musto
Musto

Oh, my. So sad! And I was right about the play showing her too manic. Judy here is twitchy but basically sedated. I do love when she hands the feather boa to Peter Lawford and says she brought it for him! He later makes a crack about how he should bring out his purse. But overall, this is tragic stuff.

Parvenu
Parvenu

"Vulgar, mean spirited, offensive"? I'm there!

Wings
Wings

Liza will not see it and she's smart not to.

Musto
Musto

Update: Finkle tells me the review had gone up too early so he asked them to take it down and re-post it later. 

Ynnocence
Ynnocence

Your review falls between these two extremes, without trying to play safe. So glad I "discovered" your new vocation. I know, you've been at it since you were born, but I'm referring to your strategy of enriching/varying blog content by spiking LDM with these perceptive, grounded pieces. As a result it's become a one-stop website for all kinds of NYC happenings, made by someone who's virtually the true soul of the city. Who knew, when they set up the internet, that a new form of lit would emerge from it? And did you know you'd be its best exponent when you started out? Never mind, analysis might just spoil the pleasure. Congrats, keep it up, and all that.

Musto
Musto

She doesn't sing that particular song. She does "Man That Got Away," "Come Rain or Come Shine," and a few others. Tracie has a strong, smoky voice. Her mouth is a little Mimi Hines-ish (meant as a compliment). It's definitely the most energetic performance of the year.

mjm
mjm

 just found out there's a line about her father Vincente...

Musto
Musto

Another update: The Finkle review was not put back up on Huffington Post. But guess what? They have posted someone else's rave review! 

Musto
Musto

Thank you, darling. Between this and my knighthood, my head might swell even larger.

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