Judy Garland (Tracie Bennett) has landed in London. She has landed in The Ritz Hotel, in a room that she is certain is smaller than any room she has ever stayed in before. She arrives with her new fiancé/manager , Mickey Deans (Erik Heger), in tow. She has recruited long-time friend, Anthony (Michael Cumpsty), a Scottish piano player that she has worked with in the past. Together,, the threesome set forth to manifest Judy’s comeback of sorts, a five week enagement at the club, Talk of the Town. However, given Judy’s reputation at this point for being unreliable, frequently drunk and not inclined to pay the bills she accumulates, a comeback would be nothing short of a miracle. But the three are going to try anyway.
Not long after their arrival is Judy up to the same old antics: dodging the hotel bills, breezing through rehearsals that could more aptly be called a daily stroll down memory lane, and sniffing out every prescription pill within a hundred square yards. For a while, Anthony and Mickey unite in their efforts to get Judy drug-free. Yet despite Mickey’s insistence that he knows how to handle her, Judy ultimately persuades him to give her just a little taste. Once the stakes grow higher, and it is a question of cancelling the engagement, or getting Judy high enough to do the show, Mickey balks at what is best for Judy. The rest is a sickening downward spiral that neither Anthony, nor a lucid Judy can arrest.
I am not a fan of Judy Garland, so I don’t have the details of her life or death committed to memory. Perhaps that is a good thing in this case, because it allows the story of End of the Rainbow to unfold for people like me in a more organic way. End of the Rainbow is a simply tragic tale of a young girl full of promise, who turned around one day to find herself on the other side of decades of substance abuse and fair-weather enablers; that she had become old, sad and the shadow of her former promise. Bennett’s performance is nothing short of inspired. She glides from delightfully self-effacing, multi-talented Hollywood superstar, to the histrionic fits of a seasoned diva to crippling bouts of self-doubt, to a wailing withdrawal induced puddle of id; and she does it with amazing grace and truth.
The supporting cast and production elements were in no small measure, equally as fanstaic as the show's leading lady. Michael Cumpsty's Anthony is a humble piano player torn between the fear of reaching out to the woman he idolizes and his frustration at her obstinate self-destructiveness. Erik Heger, portraying Mickey Deans, aka husband number five, skillfully embues his character with a rich naivete that quickly darkens when the going gets rough. Special congratulations should be bestowed upon William Dudley on remarkable costume design that is both dazzling and nostalgic. Lastly, the unusal unsung heroes of any production with music, muscial director Jeffrey Saver and his orchestra accented every musical mment with a collective exclamation point or muted whispers, whatever the moment called for. Well Done!
End of the Rainbow brings an interesting question to the surface, beyond too much too soon or questionable abuse of children and drugs in the entertainment industry. The play attempts to shed light on the idea of how we choose our heroes, how we chose to diminish them or elevate them when they falter or when they succeed. The play takes an interesting look at the fetitization of fame and celebrity. Do we build people up just to tear them down? Do we love our heroes just as much in their imperfection as we do when you shine?
End of the Rainbow is showing now through April 21, 2013 at:
Downtown Los Angeles at the Music Center
135 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz