Theatre Review: End of the Rainbow @ Trafalgar Studios

By Zoe Craig Last edited 87 months ago
Theatre Review: End of the Rainbow @ Trafalgar Studios

We've got a confession to make: one of the reasons we went to see End of the Rainbow at Trafalgar Studios last night was the promise of hearing some incredible songs sung live, rather than listening to recordings.

Born a decade after Judy Garland's death in 1969, we've never heard The Trolley Song, When You're Smiling or Come Rain or Come Shine live on stage. (Unlike the guy next to us, who proudly tells us in a reverent whisper that he "saw her, live, twice, you know.")

Happily, Tracie Bennett's renditions are phenomenal. Attacking the stage in a number of spangly costumes, she throws e.v.e.r.y.thing at these famous songs. Particularly brilliant is The Man That Got Away, the opening bars started while lying, crying prostrate on the floor, building to that incredible, perfectly phrased climax and showing off just what a great piece of music Gershwin composed.

Between these fantastic performances, we see Judy Garland's private life, living in a Ritz suite in 1968, while she embarked on a five-week run of concerts called The Talk of the Town. She has a new fiancé, Mickey Deans (although she can't remember if he's going to be husband number four or number five), and is attempting to wean herself off the amphetamines she's been taking since she was a Hollywood child star in the 1930s. And stop drinking. And get out of debt.

Unfortunately, these hotel scenes in no way live up to the songs. Peter Quilter's script seems stretched (we learn from our devoted neighbour that this show started life at the Edinburgh Festival, an hour shorter), and tells us nothing new about its star. Apart from that she's a pretty nasty piece of work. With no tragic arc, it's hard to feel sorry for a character that's bent on self-destruction. Too often characters are forced to say totally unnatural things to fill in the biography. And too often the script resorts to cheap swearing and crass "queer" gags to raise a laugh from the audience.

But for Judy fans, none of this will matter. We were assured by our fellow audience member that Bennett's impersonation is spot on, from her musicality to her drug-addled finger tips. The role is a real tour de force for the actress; we might even suggest that theatre awards await...

End of the Rainbow plays at the Trafalgar Studios until 5 March. Visit www.endoftherainbowlondon.com for more information and to book tickets.

Photo of Tracie Bennett (Judy Garland) in End Of The Rainbow by Robert Day

Last Updated 24 November 2010

Mosthappyfella

Gershwin ddn't compose "the man that got away", his brother wrote the lyrics, the composing was done by Harold Arlen...even reviewers should check their facts if they are not sure.

Dave

Brilliant performance by Tracie Bennett. Close your eyes and you would think you were hearing Judy Garland. Two small quibbles. If you are studying Judy Garland, you will know she was left-handed and wrote with her left hand. I was surprised that the short scene where Tracie writes standing at the baby grand piano, she uses her right hand. Obviously, she is naturally right-handed. But if you are playing the character, it should be correct. Secondly, at the end of the show, Tracie sings 'Over The Rainbow', there is that last line '....why oh why can't I' Tracie pronounces it as English 'cahn't' and not American 'caaan't' - as Judy Garland does in her own recording.

Show should be longer with more Garland songs and even a monologue with Bennett on the stage alone - to express her desperation to the audience. Having said that, the Garland one-liners are brilliant and the supporting cast excellent.

Philip

The greatest show in town. Smart script, great performances. Fully deserving of the 5-star raves in all the newspapers. Don't miss it! It took my breath away it was THAT good.

CM

Fantastic, frantastic, fantastic. Would have preferred more songs and less 'play' as Tracie Bennett's voice is AMAZING. I watched the orchestra while she sang and imagined it was Judy standing there, not hard to do! The Trafalgar Studio is fantastic too, even in row E you feel you are right on the stage with the actors. Every fan of Judy Garland should see this show, it's the closest you will ever get to the real thing.