This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

27May/12

END OF THE RAINBOW

Peter Quilter’ss END OF THE RAINBOW tells the poignant story of Judy Garland’s last stand

Belasco Theatre
111 West 44th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Through November 11, $31.50 - $126.50
www.endoftherainbowbroadway.com

In 2005, British playwright Peter Quilter scored big with a pair of Olivier Award-nominated musical dramas based on real performers. Glorious! told the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, the worst singer in the world. The other, End of the Rainbow, delved into what essentially turned out to be Judy Garland’s last stand as she tried to regain her status as one of the best, most beloved entertainers on the planet. Tony and Drama Desk-nominated Tracie Bennett makes an electrifying Broadway debut as Garland, who arrives at the Ritz Hotel in London to prepare for a five-week engagement at the Talk of the Town in December 1968. She’s joined by her much younger manager and fiancé, Mickey Deans (Tom Pelphrey), and her pianist, Anthony (Tony nominee Michael Cumpsty), who makes reference to a previous disaster five years earlier in Sidney. As she battles her addictions to pills and alcohol, Garland refuses to see just how desperate her financial situation is, playing diva to the full as everything threatens to fall apart around her. Bennett is sensational as Garland, effortlessly shifting between poignant scenes in the hotel room and dazzling ― and purposefully not-so-dazzling ― performances of such standards as “The Man That Got Away,” “Come Rain or Shine,” “The Trolley Song,” “Just in Time,” and “When You’re Smiling.” The back wall of William Dudley’s elegant hotel room set occasionally rises, revealing a live band and converting the space into a nightclub, with Garland playing to the audience as she sings the classic tunes, sometimes grasping the microphone like it’s her lover, at other times getting tangled in it like it’s trying to strangle her. Although only forty-seven at the time, Garland looked twenty years older at the end of her life, ravaged by childhood stardom, a series of failed marriages she constantly refers to, and her various addictions, and the fifty-year-old Bennett embodies that telling discrepancy with both grace and humility. Quilter and director Terry Johnson (La Cage au Folles) explore whether Deans was a money-hungry enabler or a truly caring husband-to-be, while the fictional character of Anthony just might be Garland’s only true friend. End of the Rainbow is a deliciously dishy yet ultimately intimate and painful look at the end of an American legend.

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