Sunday, April 15, 2012

With Judy On Broadway At The End Of The Rainbow

It’s December 1968 and Judy Garland is poised to make a triumphant comeback… again.
In a London hotel room with her young new fiancé and trusted pianist at her side, Garland prepares to undertake a series of concerts at London’s famed Talk of the Town in an attempt to reclaim her crown as the greatest talent of her generation.
That's the story behind the new Broadway outing, End of the Rainbow, described as a "savagely funny drama that shows Garland facing the challenge with her signature cocktail of talent, tenacity and razor-sharp wit, revealing the most brilliant star in her most demanding role: her life."
We'd heard so much about Tracie Bennett's performance as Judy Garland in this show that yesterday we hustled up to Manhattan in a hurry to catch the matinee performance featuring Bennett, Tom Pelphry as the fiancé (Mickey) and Michael Cumpsty as the pianist (Anthony).
The first thing we want to tell you is that Bennett's performance as Judy is nothing short of astounding. And to that, let us add electrifying, dazzling, breathtaking and awe-inspiring.
Along with the accompaniment of a six-piece onstage band, Bennett brings alive some of Garland’s most memorable and beloved songs including: The Man That Got Away, The Trolley Song, Come Rain or Come Shine and Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
When the band begins to play and Bennett belts out these blockbusters the stately old Belasco Theater is jolted to its core and you'll get goosebumps. You will hear the songs (and understand their meaning) as never before.
Be sure of this: This is not an impersonation of Judy Garland. It's far beyond that. It's Tracie Bennett bringing Judy back, but in not quite the same way that we remember her. Because now Judy is nuanced and fleshed-out with our renewed awareness of all that came before: the pills, the booze, the heartache, the failed-marriages, the flops, the disappointments, the regrets.
We now fully comprehend (as we didn't in 1968) the rough, desperate, treacherous underbelly of showbiz -- the cynicism and sham of celebrity.
And this combines with Bennett's poignant, three-dimensional performance to give us Judy as she really was.
In fact, as the show unfolds layer upon layer of Judy is peeled back (just as layer upon layer of her makeup comes off) to reveal the frightened child who was never allowed not to please others; never allowed not to perform.
Through it all, Judy/Tracie remains darkly funny, self-deprecating, alternately charming and destructive and ultimately manic.
As Anthony Michael Cumpsty is mature, sensitive, realistic and caring. Like many of those around Judy at the time, he understands what's happening, wants to help but is finally prevented from doing so. As Mickey, Pelphry is young, handsome, brash and manipulative. He also proclaims his desire to help but his motives seem to be less than honorable.
No, this isn't a recreation of a Judy Garland concert. Nor is it a musical Judy Garland tribute show. If that's what you're looking for, go somewhere else.
This show isn't built on lipstick, rouge and glitter.
This is the sometimes haunting, often scintillating and still compelling story of Judy Garland looking to fly above the rainbow just one more time.
You won't soon forget it.

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