Theater Review: 'End of the Rainbow' -- 2.5 stars
End of the Rainbow
It's extremely jarring for someone weaned on "The Wizard of Oz" to see Judy Garland - or at least an actress pretending to be Judy Garland - popping pills, guzzling vodka, making suicide threats, talking about her indulgent sex life, cursing nonstop and completely falling apart while performing one of her trademark songs.
Peter Quilter's "End of the Rainbow," a melodramatic tabloid drama with live music that chronicles Garland's last days, comes to Broadway following a successful London engagement. Its original star, Tracie Bennett, is making her Broadway debut as the iconic actress.
As the play begins, it is December 1968 and a 47-year-old Garland is lounging in a posh hotel room and getting ready for a five-week string of concerts.
She is joined by club owner Mickey Deans (Tom Pelphrey), her soon-to-be husband (her fifth) - who is trying to manage her physically and financially - and her gay Scottish pianist Anthony (Michael Cumpsty).
In one telling scene, Mickey agrees to provide Garland with whatever pills she wants so long as she agrees to finish her concert.
In between scenes at the hotel, the set rises to reveal a six-piece band, which joins Garland during concert sequences. At her worst, she attempts to perform while tangled in a microphone cord.
Although the play offers a raw and shocking portrait of Garland, it quickly runs out of steam. The end, where Anthony simply walks forward to address Garland's death to the audience, is especially disappointing.
Terry Johnson's production depends heavily upon Bennett's superb, highly physical performance and the musical interludes, which include songs such as "Over the Rainbow," "The Trolley Song" and "The Man That Got Away."
Bennett successfully walks the fine line of convincingly portraying Garland's larger-than-life, bizarre behavior without making it feel like a campy parody. Although erratic, her Garland is also poised, witty and emotionally longing for some stability.
If you go: "End of the Rainbow" plays an open run at the Belasco Theatre. 111 W. 44th St., 212-239-6200, telecharge.com.