End of the Rainbow; An Icon Reborn on Broadway

The higher the throne the longer the fall. This seems to be the case with so many celebrities especially iconic ones that have redefined the entertainment scene. However, I am specifically talking about Judy Garland and the new musical End of the Rainbow which is currently playing on Broadway at The Belasco Theatre. However, I had realized last night by the time I left the theatre, despite the fact that you may be at the end of the rainbow, one can still find shinning bright moments in a life plagued by alcohol, addiction and a need to reclaim fame once captured.

End of the Rainbow is a musical drama written by Peter Quilter which portrays the life of Judy Garland as she tries to make one final comeback once and for all in the final months leading to her death in 1969. The show mostly focuses around the constant struggle Judy had in her life with addiction to pills, alcohol and the men whether they worked for her or were more involved in her personal life. The way I would best describe it would be a play featuring the hit music of Judy Garland on Broadway.

The musical drama directed by Terry Johnson is a gripping piece that captures the audience and brings them firsthand into the life of one of the most talented stars of the time who is utterly being destroyed by an addiction she cannot handle. It is not only emotional but effective with their portrayal of Garland’s decline through continuous bad press and inconsistent lifestyle. While at times I found myself doubting the quality of the book and production, I did find myself very upset at the end as they explain Garland’s final months on earth after everything you have just witnessed. It may not be your first choice of a show you want to see on Broadway but is definitely something worth seeing. I must give a personal shout out to Jeffrey Saver who is the musical director of the production.  The musical aspect of the show is hands down the brightest aspect of it. I loved the performances and the song choices through out.

Words cannot describe the performance given by Tracie Bennett who stars as Judy Garland in the production. Not only has Bennett captured the correct image, but put so much of herself in the character that at when the musical numbers of the show arrive, it seems as if you are watching Judy herself on stage perform. It is painful to watch her consistent battle something you can tell has taken the upper hand in her life and is driving a monster she can’t seem to control. Bennett brings to life Garland classics such as “Smile”, “Come Rain or Come Shine”, “Get Happy” and of course, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. However, its not only Bennett’s vocals that will win you over but her acting as well. It is beyond superb and truly brings to life a character people will love and appreciate.

Michael Cumpsty stars as Anthony in the production. One of Judy’s long time friends and her piano player for her comeback show. They remember the old times while trying to work their way into new ones. However, Anthony is deeply affected by how much addiction has destoryed Garland’s life. Cumpsty is enjoyable as Garland’s friend but sadly has no part written for him in the script to standout. Vocally or acting wise which leaves you with an “meh” feeling about his overall performance. Although out of the minor roles in the show, he is the best and does hold the audience’s attention through out.

Tom Pelphrey stars in the role of Mickey Deans in the production; the last of Garland’s lovers before her death. Originally wanting to help her, he eventually turns against her only fueling the addiction and as many believe, became the cause of her death just three months after their marriage in 1969. However, Pelphrey does not score for me in this production really on any level. His acting sometimes seemed forced and jaded the story taking place around him overall harming the final product instead of just himself. He was by no means god awful and unbearable to watch. However, there were times I wish the producers would have paid more for a larger name maybe in said role.

Jay Russell also stars in the production in a variety of minor roles as such BBC Interviewer/Porter/ASM and is good through out. However, you never really get the chance to see him to anything of substance and therefore you lose him through out the performance. Upon reentering, you are even reminded that he was present in the theatre that evening for the show he currently works on. I would not blame this on him however. Bad book writing can take the main fault for this aspect of the show.

Th show features a scenic design by William Dudley which puts us in Garland’s hotel room as she works to plan her comeback to the stage she has been working on. However, for her performances at “Talk of the Town”, out goes the back wall to reveal the entire orchestra and a stage marquee which clearly shows us we are now at Garland’s show. The furniture does remain for all the “Talk of the Town” scenes which I personally found distracting and hindering. However, I did find myself wondering at times if it was left there to show how the addiction in her personal life (The hotel room) transferred and affected so much of what she did on the stage. Lighting by Christopher Akerlind is great and creates the illusion of the passing days as well as showing the various locations through out Garland’s London Suite. He also uses proper show lighting for her “Talk of the Town” performances that take place. William Dudley also designs costumes which were great for the most part. All true to the time period, the costumes specifically designed for Garland were hands down my favorite the night. They were not only true to her character but stood out with sparkle and flair.

I do have to say though as much as I do enjoy this show on Broadway, I found myself wondering how long it would last. While yes, the story is about a American icon that people loved very much, I would overall consider this production much more of a West End style production. (Where this show originally began). I think people love Judy Garland and love seeing the downfall of the rich and famous. And while End of the Rainbow is may bring some colors to Broadway, it is by no means the brightest section of the arch.

So if you get a chance wonder down the yellow brick road with Tracie Bennett and the cast of End of the Rainbow on Broadway now currently playing at The Belasco Theatre. This is one journey you definitely not only want to hear about but experience first hand. For more information, check out End of the Rainbow’s Official Broadway Website or their Official Facebook Page. And of course, don’t forget to check out the rest of Luner on Theatre for all your theatre news you don’t only want to know but need to know and more! 

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