End of Rainbow 3Shattered illusions, broken dreams, memories and raucous, often vile humor dominate End of the Rainbow, the new play with music by Peter Quilter starring Tracie Bennett currently running at The Belasco Theatre after a successful run in the West End. Along the way, Bennett collected several awards for an electrifying performance as a bravely conflicted and frail Judy Garland simultaneously on the brink of collapse and near triumph as she returns to London for a 5-week concert engagement at the fabled Talk of the Town in December 1968 – six months before her demise. With her is fiance'/manager/enabler Mickey Deans and Anthony, her gay piano player. Add to the mix a lot of savagely funny, self-induced drama and histrionics to access. Also, an inordinate amount of profanity. As one who spent some time in her presence in those days and witnessed over 100 performances, I might attest to the fact that I never once heard Garland scream out the f word repeatedly or even, at one point, “Suck my cock!” with abandon. This was not Garland's lingo. What was Mr. Quilter thinking? Was this for shock value? It drew an awkward laugh from the audience. Too, there is no mention of Garland's three children. To someone uninformed, it's as though she had no children when, in fact, she was tortured by her separation from them during this period. And what was director Terry Johnson thinking with all this hyperactive, uneven madness that never quite makes sense? Could this have been the real or imagined Garland? If so, it's a divine miracle she lived to be 47 years old.

 Quibbles asunder, the only thing that matters in this extended mad scene is Tracie Bennett in a  tour de force performance that will long be remembered. Physically frail but feisty like Garland and with chalk-like makeup and tosselled wig, she is a revelation with her commanding presence and skilled acting. Making little attempt to imitate Garland's unique vibrato and soaring passages in song, Bennett is still convincing and manages to galvanize the audience like few performers over the last few decades.

 As Mickey Deans, who would become Garland's fifth husband, Tom Pelphrey is believable and does his best with the lines he has to work with. The handsome actor deserves better material. However, Michael Cumpsty is totally winning and almost pathetic in his gentle caring for Garland amid her over the top, schizo behavior as she searches for pills and liquor between performances and some terrific singing. His performance adds heart to a hodgepodge of emotions, screamed anecdotes and kinetically delivered lines and songs. More of this is needed.

 This circus of impending doom takes place mainly in the small London hotel suite as the three main characters exchange barbs and silliness that might be more effective in an Off-Broadway house sans high ticket prices. More than one audience member voiced disappointment in spite of Bennett's awesome performance.

 The 1968 hotel setting is believable and appropriately ornate with lots of white and gold all over the place. The lighting is well conceived. The action takes place at the hotel suite with quick jumps to Garland's erratic live performances at Talk of the Town with a great band behind the scrim. At one point, a Ritalin-ravaged Garland frenetically races through a version of Come Rain Or Come Shine like an out of control roller coaster.

In character, Ms. Bennett is a force to be reckoned with. Vocally, this is mostly so on a riveting The Man That Got Away and and encore of By Myself. Both have the same effect Garland produced and left the audience happy. The latter seems to have been thrown in as a way of saving the best for last and leaving the audience roaring – which they did.

An effective Jay Russell, who plays more than one part, awkwardly comes out at the close to give the final synopsis as a narrator announcing that Garland died six months later. This bit seemed pedestrian and out of place – as did other missed opportunities in this strangely written accounting that is, at times, tasteless yet shattering in its madness and showing the glory of a gifted actress (Bennett) giving more than one hundred percent. But … is this the right way to treat an icon of Garland's stature? Garland had no peer then – or now.

The whole creative team includes: William Dudley (Scenic & Costume Design,) Christopher Akerlind (Lighting Design,) Gareth Owen (Sound Design,) Chris Egan (Orchestrations,) Gareth Valentine (Musical Arrangements) and Jeffrey Saver (Musical Direction.)

End of the Rainbow currently plays the following performance schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 pm, Wednesday at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm, Thursday at 7:00 pm, Friday at 8:00 pm, Saturday at 2:00pm and 8:00 pm and Sunday at 3:00 pm.

Tickets are available via Telecharge.com by calling (212) 239 6200, or in person at the Belasco Theatre box office at 111 West 44th Street.

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