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Judy Garland at the End of the Rainbow

The Rep’s excellent production of a star in decline

Jan. 17, 2014
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What is most likely to become legend? Our personal memories? The latest tabloid headlines? Or the possibility that those who are larger than life are no different than the rest of us? In fact, they may very well be far more wounded than we—or they—could possibly imagine.

Such is the case with Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s excellent production of End of the Rainbow, detailing the attempted 1968 comeback of a woman born Frances Ethel Gumm. She grew up to become the legendary, timeless Judy Garland, and we see what was once our sweet, innocent Dorothy from the Land of Oz now moving in the netherworldly haze of booze and pills.

“You know, whenever I drink water, I feel like I’m missing out on something,” says the diva of all divas upon arrival for her five-week run of shows in London. Cue the whiskey and Ritalin. Not shaken or stirred—but desperately flung back in one fell swoop. After all, the show must go on. And on. And on…

Under the direction of the Rep’s Artistic Director Mark Clements, Peter Quilter’s play with music moves deftly between the London suite and the Talk of the Town nightclub where Judy performs. His use of a few characters like Garland’s pianist (a spot-on performance by Thomas J. Cox) and fifth and final fiancé Mickey Deans (Nicholas Harazin) lets the star wattage shine brightly. But sadly, it can only last as long as a shooting star. (Garland died a year later in London of an accidental overdose of barbiturates. She was 47.)

Given the show’s two-hour-13-minute length (with 20 minute intermission), time with the Divine Miss G flies by as we watch her descent into the maelstrom of her own making. That is due to the multifaceted and remarkable talents of Hollis Resnik who takes the role well beyond mere imitation and studied movement. Resnik fully embodies the tortured soul of Garland from her first frenzied entrance to the closing, moving moments. Even her vocalization of classics like “The Man That Got Away” and “Just in Time” transcend acting, creating a truly definitive portrayal of the beloved performer.

“I miss being loved,” she says in a low, vulnerable moment to pianist Anthony during act two. Love did finally arrive through her generations of fans. But not until this legend had already reached the end of her own rainbow.

End of the Rainbow runs through Feb. 9, at the Rep’s Quadracci Powerhouse Theater, 108 E. Wells St. For tickets, call 414-224-9490 or visit milwaukeerep.com.


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