End of the Rainbow

Newspaper Review

Judith Newmark – St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jun 24, 2018

Is there a play-with-music that focuses on Janis Joplin near the end of her life?

If not, maybe Max & Louie Productions should commission it. Put it together with its current standout show about Judy Garland, “End of the Rainbow,” and last season’s presentation about Billie Holiday, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” and you’d have a memorable triptych: Three immensely talented, terribly self-destructive women, singing themselves into early graves.

Alexis J. Roston, who starred as “Lady Day,” won Chicago’s Jeff award for her performance in the play there, and “End of the Rainbow” star Angela Ingersoll won the Jeff for this play, too. It’s not hard to see why. These juicy roles — depicting women on emotional and financial roller-coasters, women with serious substance-abuse problems — give lots of latitude to the rare performer who is also capable of singing them.

Ingersoll is that performer. Her work dazzles when she portrays Garland in concert in London, singing the zesty “Trolley Song” from one of her biggest hits, “Meet Me in St. Louis.” She sparkles more than the sequins she wears, confident that the audience rests in the palm of her hand.

But that exhilarating number finds a heartbreaking counterpart in Ingersoll’s rendition of “The Man Who Got Away,” which she sings in her empty hotel suite after her much-younger fiancé Mickey Deans (Kyle Hatley) has walked out. Dressed in a black slip, she turns her back to the audience and raises a yearning arm to — nobody.

It sounds awful to say it, but the personal troubles contribute as much to this entertaining play’s tone as the familiar songs that Ingersoll performs with feeling, flair and an uncanny resemblance to Garland. (She recently performed a Garland tribute concert at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza.) Anyway, playwright Peter Quilter goes there ahead of us. His portrait of Garland’s brilliant career and sad life demands both moments to tell the whole story.

Director David New gives Ingersoll all the spotlight attention a performer could ask for (and which, he suggests, Garland claimed anyway). Thomas Conroy does double duty as musical director of “End of the Rainbow” and as the actor who plays Anthony, a thoughtful gay pianist Garland comes to rely on offstage as well as on. It’s a nice turn that plays well off Hatley’s performance as Mickey, utterly out of his depth with Garland but too infatuated by fame to know it.

Paul Cereghino rounds out the cast in several roles, especially charming as a BBC host gallantly trying to navigate an interview with the inebriated star. Dunsi Dai’s elegant hotel-suite set transforms effortlessly into a concert stage that accommodates not only Ingersoll but a live combo.

And costume designers Bill Morey and Teresa Doggett point out, wordlessly, how strongly Garland’s personal sense of style influenced her daughter Liza Minnelli. Sequined, flowing pants and tops? Minnelli’s not the only one she influenced. Garland left a legacy in music, sure — but also one that women of a certain age continue to embrace. Too bad she didn’t know that she looked nearly as good as she sounded.