I’ve never had a special connection to Judy Garland. Yes, I’ve seen The Wizard of Oz (who hasn’t?) and yes, I know she’s a movie and musical icon. I like several of her songs. I think she was a huge talent. But I’ve never been what you would call a fan.
Still, when I saw End of the Rainbow at Trafalgar Studios for the first time I was a complete mess by the end of the show. I remember sitting there during the last song (that very famous Judy Garland song) with tears running down my face. That last scene was completely devastating and beautiful at the same time.
I was thrilled when I heard the show was going on tour and that Tracie Bennett was reprising her performance as Judy Garland. The fact that Norman Bowman was joining the tour cast to play Judy’s last husband Mickey Deans was the last little push I needed to sort out a date to watch the show in Richmond.
End of the Rainbow shows the tragic picture of the late Judy Garland – a psychological wreck, addicted to narcotics and alcohol, who wants to be loved for being herself but can’t and never will escape the icon that is Judy Garland and all the highs and lows that fame brings along.
I’m sure everyone who has seen the show will agree when I say it doesn’t get much better than Tracie Bennett as Judy Garland. This is one of the rare moments of an actress playing the part of her life. It’s what every actor and actress dreams of – a role that just fits perfectly and allows you to really shine on stage. And Tracie Bennett does shine in End of the Rainbow. Her performance is breathtaking and mesmerizing. Whilst I’m not the biggest fan of her voice Tracie’s way of singing the big Judy Garland tunes is simply amazing. Her “Somewhere over the rainbow” at the very end of the show made me cry – the pure tragedy that was displayed in this last scene in combination with such a beautiful song was heartbreaking. The last play I watched was Jerusalem with Mark Rylance. I think Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow is for Tracie Bennett what Johnny Byron in Jerusalem is for Mark Rylance: A gift – a part that will be associated with you for all time and that makes people go “Wow, he/she is AMAZING in that part, no one could play it like that!”.
Hilton McRae plays Anthony, Tracie’s pianist for the Talk of the town concerts in London. I loved his portrayal of the part during the show’s first run and I still loved it on tour. His Anthony has this typical dry, British humor but he’s also vulnerable and very concerned about Judy (as in Judy, the person and not Judy, the icon).
Norman Bowman as Mickey Dean, my favourite addition to the tour cast. I’ve seen him in a few productions but all of them were musicals so it was nice to catch him in a part that concentrated on the acting alone. It must have been a challenge to join the established on stage team Tracie Bennett / Hilton McRae. But I can definitely say that Norman managed to fit in perfectly. His Mickey was both ambitious and concerned about Judy’s well being. Mickey loved Judy but he also loved success which means he was torn between giving Judy what she needed to function in the public eye and taking care of Judy as a person. I think the hardest thing when playing the role of Mickey Deans is to manage the mix between Mickey, the manager (who gives Judy drugs to make her go on stage) and Mickey, the fiancée (who loves Judy and doesn’t want her to destroy herself completely). Norman did just that – he found the perfect balance and really made Mickey a three dimensional character I could relate to.
Robert Maskell in various small parts did a great job although one has to say the focus of the play is definitely on the three other performers. But it sure was nice to see him on stage again. I remember really enjoying his portrayal of Georges in La Cage aux Folles at the Playhouse Theatre a few years ago.
I’m curious to see how this show will work in the USA. It’s absolutely amazing for Tracie Bennett to get to perform the part on Broadway. I’m not entirely sure an American actor will be able to play Anthony the way he should be played (as in VERY British). Plus I think they should have taken Norman along – how amazing would that have been! But hey, at least he got to play this interesting part alongside Tracie Bennett. That alone must have been an experience and something to cherish for a lifetime.
I wish I could tell you all to go and see End of the Rainbow but sadly the tour has finished so in case you haven’t seen it already: Sorry, you missed out big time!