PAT LAUNER, CENTER STAGE ON KSDS-FM
RUN DATES: 11/1/15 – 11/29/15
VENUE: Intrepid Theatre
Every drama or tragedy, ancient or modern, has some lesson, message or moral, a payoff for the audience for suffering along with the character. None of that in “End of the Rainbow,” Peter Quilter’s 2005 play chronicling the last months in the life of Judy Garland, who overdosed at age 47.
The setting is Christmas 1968, at the Ritz Hotel in central London, and onstage at the Talk of the Town nightclub where Judy scheduled a six week comeback gig. She has a new fiancé, Mickey Deans, soon to become her fifth husband. A former club owner who’s now her manager, he tries to deny her access to the pills and booze she’s been addicted to most of her life, but she refuses his help, and the loving support of her pianist, Anthony, a stand-in for all her gay devotees.
The fact that her addictions began in her youth, started by movie studios and condoned by her mother, gets just a passing mention. There’s no context for her manipulative, narcissistic behavior, no insights into her relationship with her mother, her men or her music. The only glimpse behind the foul-mouthed, seductive mask is the fear that she can’t go onstage without chemical assistance.
We get a relentless series of self-destructive acts. “They hate to see you fall,” Mickey says, “but they love it when you get back up.” In this show, she barely gets back up.
But Eileen Bowman is magnificent, perfectly capturing Judy’s biting wit, volatility and insecurity. She transforms her voice completely, producing a throaty tremolo that doesn’t really sound like Garland but, coupled with those classic Judy moves, it effectively conveys blistering emotion in ten signature songs.
Cris O’Bryon, pianist nonpareil, is terrific as Judy’s cynical English accompanist. Jeffrey Jones is given little to work with in the underwritten role of Mickey.
The design elements are excellent, and they work well in the Lyceum Space. Intrepid Theatre founding director Christy Yael-Cox has done a marvelous job with this San Diego premiere. It may be like watching a train-wreck, but the gutsy performance is impeccably on track.
“End of the Rainbow” runs through November 29 at the Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza.
©2015 PAT LAUNER, San Diego Theater Reviews