End of the Rainbow
Michelle Kenyon – Snoop’s Theatre Thoughts, June 25, 2018
Max & Louie’s “End of the Rainbow” Showcases Great Talent
Judy Garland. She’s a legend, no question. She’s famous for her extraordinary voice, her film roles, and her turbulent life. In End of the Rainbow, the latest show from Max & Louie Productions, the focus is on Garland at the end of her too-short life. This play is also an excellent opportunity for the showcasing of two remarkable talents–the legendary Garland, of course, and also the wonderful performer who portrays her, Angela Ingersoll.
The Judy Garland we see in End of the Rainbow isn’t the star in her prime. Peter Quilter’s play focuses on a dramtatized and semi-fictionalized account of a six-week period of Garland’s life when she did a series of concerts at the “Talk of the Town” nightclub in London, portraying the famous performer near the end of her life. This Judy Garland is tired, in debt, addicted to alcohol and various prescription drugs, and engaged to the man who will become her fifth husband, Mickey Deans (Kyle Hatley). In this story, as Garland and Deans arrive at a luxurious hotel suite that Garland proclaims “too small”, they are surprised by Anthony (Thomas Conroy), a British pianist who has worked with Garland before, but not recently. Still, he reveres her, even being familiar with her flaws as well as her still obvious talent. That great big voice is there, as is Garland’s sense of stage presence and audience rapport, but that rapport is challenged by Garland’s increasingly erratic behavior. Through the course of the play, we see Garland’s talent as well as her struggles, as well as a sort of battle between two men who try to show their love for her in different, and sometimes less than helpful, ways.
This is a tour-de-force kind of show. The role of Judy Garland is a demanding one, both in terms of talent and of energy. I’ve seen the Olivier and Tony Award nominated Tracie Bennett play the role impressively in London, and now this challenging, intense role is taken by Angela Ingersoll, who is every bit as impressive, if not more so. Ingersoll has the vocal stylings as close as I can imagine to Garland’s on hits like “Just In Time”, “Come Rain or Come Shine”, “The Man That Got Away”, “The Trolley Song”, and of course the iconic “Over the Rainbow”. She’s also got an explosive kind of energy, able to portray Garland in this era at her worst, as well as her best, allowing a youthful glow to shine through in a poignant scene in which Conroy’s caring and nigh-worshipful Anthony does her makeup before a show. Her chemistry is strong with the excellent, likable Conroy, and also with Hatley, memorable as the enigmatic, sometimes forceful, sometimes capitulating Deans. Paul Cereghino is also strong in a trio of roles–as a bewildered BBC radio presenter, a weary hotel porter, and an overworked assistant stage manager at the club.
The look and atmosphere of 1960s London is represented well in Dunsi Dai’s sumptuous, versatile set. It’s essentially just the well-apppointed hotel room, but part of the back wall opens up to reveal a backing band during the concert scenes, and additional furniture is added for a few scenes in various other locations. Patrick Huber’s lighting is stunning, accentuating the mood in the hotel scenes as well as the glitzy performance scenes. There are also appropriately suited period costumes by Bill Morey and Teresa Doggett. Garland’s glamourous concert outfits are especially memorable. The concert-within-a-play format is well-served by the excellent band and music direction by Conroy.
During the conclusion of End of the Rainbow, I realized that the day I saw the show, June 22, was the 49th anniversary of Judy Garland’s death. This play, while showing the performer at rock bottom but with glimmers of her earlier glory, may seem like an unusual memorial. It does have its moments of melodrama, but it’s the performances that make this show, and particularly Ingersoll’s seemingly boundless energy and evocation of the spirit of the legendary Garland. It’s a performance not to be missed.