We gave it an A-
You have to hand it to Tracie Bennett, making her Broadway debut as the iconic Judy Garland in the drama (with music) End of the Rainbow. The British actress has guts. She also has the look, the poses, and the vocal chops to portray the much-revered (and much-imitated) star just months before her premature death at age 47 in 1969. Peter Quilter’s serviceable script presents Judy Agonistes — the Scotch-drinking, pill-popping, bill-dodging, bowl-throwing diva who checks into London’s Ritz Hotel to prepare for a series of concerts that might dig her out of debt and revive her languishing career. But for Garland, there’s nothing but gray skies from now on.
As in life, Bennett’s Garland is attended by men — an adoring but disillusioned gay Scottish accompanist (Michael Cumpsty) and her much younger fiancé/manager, Mickey Deans (an appropriately callow Tom Pelphrey). Each has a blinkered vision of the woman he admires, and a different idea of what she needs to carry on. In the end, though, it’s clear that no man can fully claim the talented, tragic patron saint of suffering as his own. Unfortunately, Quilter is less than consistent in his portrait of Mickey, a more controversial figure in Garland lore. Did he try to keep her clean or did he enable her alcohol and drug issues — or worse still, exacerbate them? Quilter seems to want to have it all ways at once.
In the end, though, this show is all about Judy. And Bennett brings an astonishing sense of control to a character who is increasingly unhinged. She comically crawls on the floor like a dog (after learning the pilfered pills she’s ingested are for mange) and delivers a manic, apparently Ritalin-fueled rendition of ”Come Rain or Come Shine” (one of 10 songs the actress belts out, backed by a six-piece onstage band). It’s a brave, bravura performance without a single false note. When it comes to this year’s Tony Award for best actress in a play — you have to hand it to Tracie Bennett. A?
(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)