End of the Rainbow
Ann Pollack – St. Louis Eats and Drinks, June 30, 2018
End of the Rainbow is no lighthearted whimsy, let’s establish that right away. The last few months of Judy Garland’s life come to us unvarnished, in all their spangled, stumbling glory. We are in, mostly, a suite at the Ritz Hotel in London – not a Ritz-Carlton, but an original Ritz, established by Cesar Ritz a few years after he opened the first one in Paris – where Garland is encamping as she attempts yet another comeback, battling the pills and alcohol to which she is addicted. She might be clean when she arrives. It won’t, we suspect, last long, despite the efforts of her new boyfriend-fiance, Mickey Deans, and her accompanist/musical director Anthony.
Angela Ingersoll is spectacular as Garland. Her voice, her strange, jerky mannerisms, her labile emotions, all are so on point as to be almost creepy if the singer had not been dead nearly a half-century. As it is, we get a carefully drawn etching of a fragile human being falling apart – and it’s hard to look away. It’s an amazing portrayal, draining and exciting simultaneously.
Even when she arrives, presumably sober, she’s not fully functional. Her memory is bad for details, for instance, but she airily pushes that off in her exuberance over her new man, much younger, who’s left his job to be her manager. Here played by Kyle Hatley, there’s a great deal of physical affection and sexual hunger on her part. He seems concerned and halfway able to manage her appetite for munching pills and downing it with alcohol. At best, it’s a thankless job; at worst, well…Hatley carries it off well. But it’s Thomas Conroy, playing Anthony and playing the piano, who comes closest to an even match with Garland. He’s a more complicated person than Deans, he and Garland have a longer, and perhaps even more tumultuous history – although the soft-spoken Anthony surely didn’t scream obscenities back – and he has a great affection for her. At one point in the show, he offers what Ben Brantley of the New York Times called, in his review, “a Sunday kind of love” to her. Pay attention to his face as he looks at her while he’s playing and directing the musicians.
The musicians, five of them, add a lot to the show, but of course, this is the Great American Songbook for a score. David New directed this very interesting evening. A tip of the hat to Jacob Boshears for putting together the sound in the Grandel, not always the most hospitable environment for hearing dialogue or music. Theresa Doggett did the clothing, full of the sparkles that Garland seemed to always wear in her later years. But the most noticeable work is that of Dunsi Dai’s scenic design. The Grandel has never looked so elegant.
Worthwhile for more than just Garland fans.