I'm a relative late bloomer when it comes to Judy Garland. As a gay who loves musicals and divas, her appeal surprisingly eluded me. To me, she seemed a cataclysmic creature who was more beloved for who she was than what she did. And that made me feel icky. I tend to avoid glorifying tragic figures.
It wasn't until my late 20s when I finally understood who this woman was - around the time that "Me and My Shadows" bio-pic premiered. Judy Davis and Tammy Blanchard were my entry-point. And then I got my hands on her Carnegie Hall concert on CD, and I was hooked. Her talent? Untouchable. Her legacy? Unstoppable.
When I heard of End of the Rainbow, a new play by Peter Quilter that originated in Australia before coming to the states as a star vehicle for UK actress Tracie Bennett, it was clear the play, which focuses on the icon's final, tragic months of her life, caused a riff. Some felt it was a solid foundation to feature a tour-de-force performance. Others found it repugnant — in that it glorified her demise, focusing on her addiction, desperation and penchant for the F-word to elicit guffaws.
Well, after seeing Porchlights' production, it's a bit of both. The show is ... not great. It's obvious and clunky and tries -- too late -- to have a point of view.
HOWEVUH. It's also a star vehicle. And, oh boy, what a star Porchlight has found in Angela Ingersoll. It's simply remarkable how Ingersoll has managed to cast a portrayal that's enough impersonation to captivate, and grounded in human truth to haunt. And what a voice!
Director Michael Weber keeps things simple to let the star shine. The men that surround her are perfectly fine, but more extended scenery than scene partners — by design.
Speaking of design, Christopher Rhoton manages to transform the compact Stage 773 space into both a London pad and the Hippodrome, with live band backing Ingersoll as she steamrolls through the Garland Songbook like her life depended on it, bedecked in spot-on Garland gowns by costume designer Bill Morey.
Sure, the ending is tragic, but you can't help but feel uplifted by the sheer willpower (mostly due to Ingersoll’s career-making performance) to endure, despite the odds. And, as of this week? It’s a vital lesson.
"End of the Rainbow" plays through December 9 at Porchlight Music Theatre at Stage 773. More here >