It’s a rather rainy, dismal night in London, and I find myself writing this review exactly as one probably should, wrapped up in my duvet, I have an old reading lamp on, a glass of gin in one hand, and a bit of Judy on the sound system.
I’m just back from seeing End Of The Rainbow at the Trafalgar Studios, and I will say right here, right now, this show is simply spectacular… a masterpiece!
Set in 1968, the story is staged in Garland’s hotel room during her famous London Talk Of The Town concerts. With a new young fiancé at her side, Garland battles with her demons as she undertakes the exhausting series of concerts in a bid to reclaim her crown as the greatest talent of her generation. Tragically, within six months she will be dead at the age of just 47, her body wrecked by the legendary amounts of drink and drugs she has consumed since a teenager.
End Of The Rainbow contains a selection of Garland’s most loved songs including The Man That Got Away, Come Rain Or Shine, The Trolley Song and the actress’s iconic solo Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Bennett will be accompanied by a six piece stage band. Also joining the actress on stage will be Hilton McRae as her devoted pianist, Stephen Hagan as her fifth husband-to-be and Robin Browne.
I’m just going to jump right in and say it, this show is totally a one woman show, and with such an icon as Judy Garland, frankly you’d expect it to be no less. It takes a very skilled person to be able to play this part, and to play it believably, and I have to say, in perhaps the most outstanding casting that the West End has seen in a long time, Tracie Bennett seems absolutely BORN to take this role on – perhaps the performance of a career!
Full credit has to go to Bennett as she absolutely looked the part, she sang with such aplomb that I regularly got tingles, and her acting was to such a high standard that she managed to take me on an emotional rollercoaster – showing both the high points and the many low points of Garland’s life during this troubled period, and, remarkably, she managed to keep making me empathise completely with the character, no matter how odious and ugly her personality had become. That I was in absolute floods at the end of this show is testament to the remarkable performance turned in by Bennett – she genuinely smashed it out of the park, and she’d be my hot tip to sweep the trophy cabinet at all the theatre award shows this season.
Of course, I do a terrible injustice to everyone else involved with this production if I do not credit their outstanding work – for I felt that Hilton MacRae and Stephen Hagen also did a fantastic job in their respective roles, really helping to bring the story and associated elements to life, and it was simply delightful to see a six-piece jazz band on a West End stage. The stage was very well dressed for the production, and I noticed no technical hitches at any point – the sound was well balanced and rich, and the lighting changes very fluid, and generally well designed.
Make no mistake about it, this show is definitely not a musical – it is a drama which happens to make use of, and reference, several of Garland’s classic songs – the handful of songs that are performed in full are very well sung and received rapturous applause from the audience, who were all clearly craving for more! By the end of Over The Rainbow, I don’t think there was a single person in the packed House who wasn’t on their feet and making their appreciation known. (I have to say ‘I don’t think’ as this was in the middle of my very sniffly cloudy eye period heh!)
I should add at this point that I watched a Preview performance (only the second one, though this production has also had an outing at Northampton’s Royal Derngate earlier in the year too), however I don’t feel that this fact detracts from my review at all, as I can’t imagine that they’ll need to be making any changes (substantial or not!) to the production between now and opening night in a few shows time – the production is absolutely fabulous ‘as-is’!
Without definitely the best night that I have had in a theatre in a long time, and my partner Karl would definitely echo those sentiments – both of us have come away feeling absolutely smitten with this show and will definitely be back to see it again very soon!
End Of The Rainbow is currently in preview period, and opens on Monday 22nd November. It’s currently booking until 5th March 2011. The show is 2 hours 30 minutes (including 15 minute interval) and ticket prices range from £15.00 up to £49.50.