Photos – Rob Maccoll
End of the Rainbow at the Playhouse Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre is a show not to miss – I will just get that statement out of the way in the very beginning of this review.
Playing to a packed house on Thursday night, Christen O’Leary (Judy Garland), Hayden Spencer (Anthony) and Anthony Standish (Mickey Deans) enter the stage: three actors hold us in the palm of their hands from the very first note. The very first note to the very last note is faultless, too, so take a bow Andrew McNaughton.
The story unfolds with Judy complaining about the size of the room and her recollection that the room was so much bigger last time she occupied it, a statement that underpins the times the star is living in at present, witnessing what would be the end of her own career. Do legends know when this is imminent?
The banter between Judy, Mickey and Anthony is a marvel in itself running the gamut of all possible repartee from loving tones to vitriolic to comedic to tragic to heartfelt to plain out-and-out sarcastic wit. Laugh? Oh yes, we did. Some of the one-liners are worth the freight alone: Christen is more Judy than Judy! No, Christen doesn’t look like Judy, but she has her nailed to the floor throughout the entire performance. The energy, facial expressions, arms and legs akimbo with that childish neediness, Christen portrays Judy with humour and humility, making the audience care.
The magic that is shared on stage between Judy’s pianist, her new fiance and herself unfolds throughout the show, offering a small slice of Judy’s life. Vignettes from the hotel room with seamless set changes throw the audience into Judy’s performance at The Talk of the Town in merry old England. Not so merry for Judy, she is booked for a six week gig and throughout the play we all agonize with her: how will she ever get through it?
Stellar performances from three strategic cast members has the audience crying along with Judy when she feels she is being rejected; root for her when she manages to shine again; feel her angst when she is back on the drug-run that has been her life from deception to inception, walking the yellow brick road from Wizard of Oz through to drawing her last tragic breath.
Peter Quilter had not originally written this play to reflect Judy Garland’s life. The English playwright ‘evolved’ one of his successes to fit the story of Judy Garland, after his initial play evoked reactions from so many, gleaning comments like, “It’s very Judy Garland, isn’t it?”
Universally, the theme of entertainers being groomed as commodities (others would include Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe and surely Elvis) outlines how fame and fortune can carry a hefty price tag, involving a lifetime of drugs, booze and whatever it takes to get a ‘star’ through the day and night.
Judy Garland died at the young age of 47, and it was said at the time, “the greatest shock about her death was that there was no shock. One simply wondered how she survived for so long.”
David Bell, the Director, admits “without Christen O’Leary, this project would not have happened. Her performance, while underpinned by meticulous research and an eye for fine detail, is astonishingly brave and painfully human. Her Judy is not a legend, but a human being.”
Mickey Deans, Anthony and Judy are in each other’s faces with never a dull moment. This musical comedy offers so much to the audience with such snappy banter I couldn’t pen the pearlers fast enough, however, did manage to record a few one-liners: “Husband Number 5? Who am I missing out?; Melbourne ... it was a bloodbath; do you want Dorothy splattered across your carpet...?; Whenever I drink water I feel I am missing out on something...; You drove him straight...” A laugh-a-minute with comedy meeting tragedy and all the wordage inbetween.
The segue between the human interplay scenes, with Judy on stimulants; Judy performing under the spotlight; reviewers’ comments; rehearsals with Anthony and him pledging his love and companionship, even though he’s gay; the ultimate rejection from Judy, choosing Mickey Deans instead (confirming her ultimate demise) are all so poignant, real and involving.
Musical interludes (lone saxophonist with a haunting melody) play in the clever video interception, heralding each scene change. Lighting and set design, a crucial element of any production, are truly magical.
Judy’s ‘drugs kick in’ and with impeccable orchestration, Christen O’Leary performs the manic, massive, melodramatic and multi-talented rendition of Come Rain or Come Shine”; I was exhausted just watching her!
When Mickey Deans exits Judy’s room, introducing Man that Got Away, the audience experiences the fear and pain Judy must have suffered. This is acting, singing and performance at its best with such clever writing, direction and major research into Ms Garland herself, I felt I had witnessed one small part of the life and last moments of Judy’s tragic life.
The video pastiche tribute, the finale, when Judy’s past is narrated by Hayden Spencer and ‘Judy’ brings it home with Somewhere Over the Rainbow, well, a few moist eyes were swelling in the audience, but the show was not over yet, folks. Surprises still happen after the curtain falls with Christen O’Leary’s last song and dance. Wow! The standing ovation lasted long after Christen received her flowers, exiting stage left.
Queensland Performing Arts Centre and Queensland Theatre Company present
End of the Rainbow
by Peter Quilter
Director David Bell
Venue: Playhouse, QPAC, South Bank, Brisbane
Dates: 2 – 24 Mar 2013
Tickets: $35 – $80