|Tracie Bennett as Judy Garland|
END OF THE RAINBOW. Peter Quilter. At the Belasco Theatre; Manhattan.
The new Broadway [transplanted from London] show End of the Rainbow looks at Judy Garland -- or a theatrical-ized, over-dramatized Judy Garland -- as she's giving -- or trying to give -- a series of performances in London and fighting off -- or rather not fighting off -- a whole series of addictions while fighting with her fiance, Mickey (Tom Pelphrey), and working with her loyal and loving accompanist, Anthony (Michael Cumpsty, who gives the most memorable performance in the piece). The first problem with the show is that it's really more of a revue that should probably be presented in a nightclub than a fully-realized play suitable for the Broadway stage. Oh, there is a "play" there -- aging, overbearing, difficult, alcoholic celebrity makes life miserable for herself and her loved ones -- but it's so superficial and generic it could be about virtually anyone. Playwright Quitler throws in names like (Sid) Luft and (Vincente) Minelli -- two of Garland's ex-husbands -- now and then to remind us who we're supposed to be watching, as well as tiresome references to Garland's alleged gay cult, but if you're expecting any depth, forget it. Like most modern-day playwrights, Quilter throws in sitcom gags -- he has Garland accidentally popping dog pills and then writhing around the floor like a poodle about to pee -- and then tries to work up some pathos, but you just can't have it both ways. As for star Bennett, she gives a fair-to middling impersonation of Garland [with her British accent always shining through and sort of shattering the illusion], and she's very energetic, but let's face it -- this is a stunt performance, the kind that garners praise and awards but is far below the level of really fine performances of insight and subtlety. When she sings, she sometimes sounds like Garland, and at other times more like the aged Katharine Hepburn. None of Garland's children are even mentioned -- it was as if she had none -- probably because they would find this hard to sit through, as did I, as it gets rather tedious; it's like spending two hours with a pathetic, boring drunk you just can't get away from. I may not be the biggest Garland fan in the world, but the lady deserves much, much better than this.
Verdict: If you really want a fine Garland performance and not a burlesque of her -- and a truly heart-breaking experience as well -- watch A Child is Waiting instead of this travesty. **.