This "play with music" by Peter Quiltey, who seems to specialize in shows about dotty divas, was quite a success in London. Judging by the half empty theatre last night, it hasn't caught on with Broadway audiences. Does the world need another Judy Garland imitator? Do we really have to see another portrait of Judy coming apart? My answer to the above would be "no." Quilter is a good craftsman and one can't fault his dramaturgy here. The play takes place in a fancy suite at a London hotel (non fancy enough for Judy who keeps complaining about how small it is although the Broadway set makes it look palatial) during her last stint at the Talk of the Town Nightclub shortly before she died. She is there with her fiancee, Mickey Deans, who is trying to get her through a five-week run so that she pay off some of her massive debt. He also tries to keep her off of booze and drugs until he realizes she can't perform without them. Also there is a sweet gay Scottish pianist who seems to represent all the gay men who worshipped Garland. In the midst of all this is Judy who is basically a spoiled child. Scenes in the room are interspersed with bits of her nightclub act (complete with small band), performed in various stages of confusion or drug-induced hyperactivity.
Tracie Bennett is eerily brilliant as Judy. It's a virtuosic performance, though one that is not always easy to watch. As her gay pianist, Michael Cumpsty wisely underplays in contract to Bennett's manic impersonation. The play is kinder to Mickey Deans than the other characters are, and Tom Pelphrey presents him as a man out off his depth.
I admired the play and greatly admired the performances, but I can't say it was a totally enjoyable experience. I guess now Peter Quilter can take on other self-destructive stars -- Janis Joplin, etc.
END OF THE RAINBOW. Belasco Theatre. May9, 2012.