Last Tuesday afternoon, I got a last-minute email from my friend inviting me to go theatre as she had a pair of free tickets from her boyfriend's mother to see End of the Rainbow. I happily said yes since I have not been to the theatre since Halloween weekend, plus I was eager to catch up with my friend who recently returned from a four month stint in China. I knew nothing about the play other than it was based on the life of Judy Garland's last few months before her tragic death in 1969. Of course, I only know of Judy Garland as the then 17 year old who played Dorothy Gales in the 1939 classic, The Wizard of Oz, but nothing else about her professional career or personal life until this play. Garland had a long and productive Hollywood career, but her personal life was ruined by drugs, alcohol, personal debt, and one very tense relationship with her controlling mother.
The play took place in a London hotel which also doubled as the main stage of the Talk of the Town where Judy was on a five-week tour to once again resuscitate her crumbling career. Four failed marriages and three suicide attempts behind her, Judy arrives to London clean and sober with her new young fiance and manager, Mickey Deans. However, the physical and emotional exhaustion from the intense schedule of back-to-back shows and PR events left her reaching for prescription pills and alcohol to deal with the pressure of her once glorious Hollywood career. Three months into her marriage with Mickey Deans in 1969, Garland died of an accidental drug overdose, leaving behind three children- Liza Minnelli from her second marriage, Lorna Luft and Joey Luft from her third marriage.
Overall, the acting was superb --- brilliant, in fact, as the acting was combined with singing of Judy's well known tunes, supported by a six-piece ensemble band, making this more of a musical theatrical performance, which I didn't expect. The lead actress (Tracie Bennett) who played Judy Garland was phenomenal; she did an amazing job depicting Garland's emotional instability, plus Bennett had an uncanny resemblence to the older Judy Garland. We saw a few of her "live shows" at Talk of the Town, which featured Garland's memorable hits, including The Man That Got Away, Come Rain Or Come Shine, The Trolley Song, and of course, Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Brilliant!
The good thing is we didn't leave Trafalgar Studio feeling depressed, rather we saw this play as a tribute to the life and work of Judy Garland. In short, I thoroughly enjoyed Tracie Bennett's performance; she is incredibly talented and the singing was amazing, however, the other actors on stage, Anthony, her gay pianist and Mickey Deans, her soon-to-be husband, was far from memorable, but perhaps this was by design, instead focusing on the rise and fall of one of Hollywood's legendary stars.
In the play, Judy Garland also makes reference to the other major show in town, The Mousetrap, based on Agatha Christie's murder mystery play. It is the longest running show in the world now in its 59th year. We went to see the play with Keenan's Dad back in October at The St. Martin's Theatre. Normally I would refrain from booking seats at the very first row, but it was the only tickets available for Friday evening. It is very different sitting at the front -- I personally think you have a better appreciation of the acting, subtle movements, and the detailed placement of the the props.
The play was fun and entertaining with a twisted ending. Mr. and Mrs. Ralston, proprietors of the Monkswell Manor, hosted the most obnoxious and not to mention eccentric group of people during a massive snow strom. Mrs. Boyles is an extremely critical elder lady who is a writer; Christopher Wren (claims to related to architect Wren) is weirdo young lad who could use a dose of Ritalin; Major Metcalf, a retired army officer; Miss Casewell, a strange lady with a troubled childhood; Mr. Paravicini, a peculiar older gentlemen with a strong foreign accent; and Detective Sergeant Trotter who arrives on skis to investigate the murder of a woman in London.
Detective Sergeant Trotter has early intelligence that he believes that murderer is at large and on his way to Monkswell Manor after fleeing the scene from London Paddington, that is, if he hasn't already checked in. Alarmed and uneasied, each guest raised their eyebrows at each other with suscipion and then Mrs. Boyle is suddenly killed... Who is the murderer? You'll just have to see the play yourself...