theatre (reviews)

review: end of the rainbow

End of the Rainbow

by Peter Quilter
Directed by Terry Johnson
Featuring Tracie Bennett, Tom Pelphrey, Jay Russell, Michael Cumpsty
The Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street
April 2, 2012 — open run
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
March 29, 2012

Belasco marquee. The closest we get to the real Garland is her name in lights outside the theatre. Image by Martha Wade Steketee

After a tour through Britain and a stop in a major city in Garland’s home state of Minnesota, End of the Rainbow has now landed with its blustery, breathy, often dissonant and out of control performance by lead actress Tracie Bennett, purportedly “as Judy Garland” on the stage of the Belasco Theatre. The semblance of Garland arrangements and the broadest details of Garland’s life in December 1968 are portrayed — her residence at the Ritz in London  with the man who would become her fifth husband, an engagement at the  Talk of the Town, and ever-present pills and alcohol. The rest of the details — people, places, how and why drugs were obtained and administered, vocal quality, personal qualities — are creations of the playwright. As Tracie Bennett, this lead performance demonstrates great energy. As Judy Garland, this portrayal is unconscionable.

The genre of movies and plays presenting, as fact, tales that are tangentially based upon or firmly suggested by real events is broad and full.  (And getting too far afield of the facts in this theatrical genre can lead to issues when journalists and corporations pay close attention. See Mike Daisey.)  Many of these movies or plays are crafted to capture a star at a pivotal moment in time by utilizing an earnest underling character or observant aide to provide a sense of the life on the other side of the tinsel and glitter, only to have the star return to her tumultuous life at the story’s end. My Favorite Year (1982) gives us Peter O’Toole as a wild-living guest star based on Errol Flynn on a New York 1950s Sid Caesar-style television comedy show (but see, names were changed) and youthful Mark-Linn Baker as the staffer set to watch over him. Baker’s Brooklyn family provides the star a look into elusive and temporarily tempting stable ordinary life, before he returns to his wild and fun ways. Similarly focused (a week in a movie shoot schedule, a pause in a career, a moment in a lifetime), My Week With Marilyn (2011) draws upon an actual memoir crafted by a young assistant to Laurence Olivier who observes filming and interacts closely with Marilyn Monroe during the creation of what eventually is titled The Prince and the Showgirl (1957).

End of the Rainbow follows in this tradition. It began its journey in 2001 as Last Song of the Nightingale with a lead character suggestive of but not actually Judy Garland. As End of the Rainbow, the play with music now includes fictionalized versions of Garland and her last husband Mickey Deans, observed by a wholly made up accompanist, our wise and caring observer, who dreams of rescuing our star from her chaotic life. The fictions rule in this case. This production wrings emotions, but the performance does not ring true to any sense of Garland the stage performer, as can be easily witnessed in her rich recorded legacy and in the published and unpublished memories of any who saw her perform.

The End of the Rainbow plot as it has evolved for this production is simple. Playwright Peter Quilter focuses on a few days at the beginning of Garland’s December 1968-January 1969 engagement at London’s Talk of the Town performance venue, just months before her death in June 1969. Scenes flip between the Ritz hotel suite she shares with her recently acquired boyfriend Mickey Deans (Tom Pelphrey) where she is visited by her engagement accompanist, playwright Quilter’s creation Anthony (Michael Crumpsty), and performances on the club stage. (A fourth actor, Jay Russell, serves as several characters including a BBC Interviewer and a Ritz hotel porter.) Anthony has known Garland for some time longer than her current beau — they discuss working together during her May 1964 Australian tour to Sydney and Melbourne. This detail provides a sense of history, and serves to introduce a past unsuccessful or the-worse-for-substances performance detail for those who understand the reference to the Melbourne appearance. During the few days covered by the play there are several segues into Bennett-as-Garland performances on the stage of the Talk of the Town. Anthony delivers a final litany of life details (heavily edited) that include Garland’s highly attended memorial events, and Bennett-as-Judy delivers two final Garland standards to send the crowds away humming.

In a 2010 interview with the playwright on a Garland-related web site, Quilter provides a view into his focus on character and emotions rather than research in preparing the play. “I didn’t research hugely because I wanted to keep the play focused on the characters and emotions,” Quilter said. “Bio plays so often get bogged down in facts and figures and a desperate need to be precise. I was more interested in a dramatic play that is inspired by these events rather than being a factual documentary of them.”  He uses stories from Garland’s life from various time periods other than this stay at the London Ritz.  These stories include Garland threatening, for fun, to jump out of the hotel window, Garland erratically withholding room payment to the hotel just to pester the manager, Garland saying of wheelchair-bound customers waiting for her at the venue when she is not interested in performing: “if they can wheel them in, they can wheel them out.” In addition to patching together facts from other years in Garland’s life, Quilter’s approach to the story is to make up what he needs for dramatic arc. Among these fictions are a Mickey Deans who has been trying to wean Garland off her prescription drugs of choice at the time — Ritalin — yet worries when his star demurs from performing one evening and feeds her drugs to get her back on stage. We also have a fictional Anthony who offers in the last moments, when Garland is clearly at her wit’s end, to take her away from all the craziness and take care of her, which she refuses for her familiar place center stage.

There are laugh lines, out of context events that did not happen in this venue, that all follow the same theme: Garland was unhinged at this point in her life, without connections, without family, without memory.  The fact is that Garland was a mother of three beloved children who were back in the States, and a woman with connections to a range of people in London at the time of these engagements. There are moments that suggest the playwright might take us somewhere into the woman’s world: “I like when I’m not ready,” Bennett-as-Garland says at one moment prior to a performance, “when there’s still time to change my mind.” This rare quiet moment catches me yet is soon undercut by gymnastic shenanigans and Bennett-as-Garland being dismissive of the audience she famously and publicly defended and revered. When asked to be respectful of her waiting audience, Bennett-as-Garland snaps “It’s hard enough entertaining these people. You want me to be polite?” What is fact, what is fiction, what remains a good laugh line (usually at Garland’s expense) seems to be lost over and over in the reactions to this play. Audience members believe they are viewing biography. Nothing in the Playbill leads them to think otherwise. I overheard an audience member at intermission saying to his seat mate: “I thought this was going to be a concert. I had no idea all this went on.”

The current leading lady Tracie Bennett has been honing this performance on stages around the world and at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, earlier this year, and has been doing press all along offering insights into her take on the Garland persona.  In September 2011, she appears in an interview published in WalesOnLine describing both the origins of the script and her way into the mindset of the character of Garland.  In this interview she talks about the original focus of this play as at first  “just about a diva from America. Peter Quilter didn’t even think about the Judy connection. But when we looked at it again, we realised this was Judy Garland at the end of her life. So we workshopped it and he rewrote it, then my producer Lee Dean bought the rights for me and we did it in London.”  This fact is not often addressed in commentary on this play — Garland’s life was retro-fitted to the kernel of Quilter’s original story.

Bennett goes on in this interview to describe her approach to the character of Garland.”It was a massive problem for me to get into the head of a diva. I don’t know any. I don’t know Beyoncé. I don’t know Diana Ross. It’s a different mindset being a star with your name above the title. But Terry Johnson, the director, helped me out enormously with that. He kept saying, ‘You look embarrassed’ and I said, ‘I am embarrassed.’ So we went to see (Judy impressionist) Jim Bailey and Terry said, ‘I’ve unlocked the key. It’s about eye contact with the audience. Divas dominate the room. They are very aware of who they are.’ And I said, ‘How are they aware of who they are? What is the day you wake up and go, ‘I am famous?’ I can’t imagine saying it, thinking it even. But that was the key, being aware of Judy’s greatness as I was playing her. That’s where I started off.”

Where she ends up is in fact never once capturing Garland’s mastery of telling a story in a song, of communicating to individual members of an audience, human being to human being. Bennett skirts around the edges of each song she performs with her breathy harsh uncontrolled vibrato. A crazed performance of “Come Rain or Come Shine” during which “Judy” is supposed to be amped up on drugs, to which the audience creepily responded enthusiastically at my performance, “reads” no differently than any of the other singing sequences in the play. There are no performance layers or nuance here, just harangue and glare.

Bennett and Quilter have added to their observations about their approaches to the play in recent weeks. In an article in the April 1, 2012 New York Times we read of the plot points of pills, drugs, overdrive, and Bennett’s all holds barred performance while holding the star at a distance.  “I’m not here to dis Judy’s legacy,” she says, adding, “But I’m not crawling up its thigh either.” The playwright describes in a piece in TDF Stages (an on-line publication by the Theatre Development Fund) his ongoing efforts to prune his multi-draft play that was born out of fiction, and re-stitched on the bones of the life story of a woman many feel is one of the greatest performers of the 20th century. Reflecting on his lessons learned during the Minneapolis run, Quilter notes how they had to “earn” the Minnesota audiences who wanted to know more about why Garland reacted as she does on stage. “Minneapolis audiences taught him to add fragility to certain scenes,” the TDF article notes. “When would Garland lose her confidence, for instance, and what might that look like?”  Right. Perhaps these are questions for another play, and another playwright. Whatever tweaks are being made, with the leading lady engaged with a stare down with the audience, and a director and a playwright attempting to insert tenderness into a play crafted out of contrived dramatic moments rather than deep knowledge of Garland’s life, it seems the only result can be a fictional telenovela with occasional familiar music.

Details count. Garland’s hometown is Grand Rapids, Minnesota, a tiny town several hours from the city Minneapolis continually referenced by the production team as Garland’s hometown. Garland’s signature song is “Over the Rainbow”, not “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, as the press placards proclaim outside the theatre. Omitted from this story are the children Garland loved and who loved her and with whom she was in continual contact during the era described here and who were present at her funeral. She had friends and colleagues who were with her in London during the era featured here. Garland certainly was a woman who told the story in a song every time she sang, and never ever in the context of this misadventure do we hear any of those stories (despite several numbers blasted by Ms. Bennett), nor do we learn much about the woman behind the myth, the songstress at the heart of the story.

Some production details are worth positive mention. Costumes by William Dudley do in fact replicate several performance ensembles worn by Garland during this era (the red be-feathered dress, the black dress paired with a red neck scarf, and the sequined bejeweled slack suit). On stage musicians under the direction of Jeffrey Saver, utilizing orchestrations by Chris Egan and arrangements by Gareth Valentine, evoke the sound of the bootleg recordings I have heard from different evenings during this London engagement.

This is a play that moves people, judging from the ovating and emoting around me at my performance. But from the testimony of the playwright, from the evolution of the play itself as dramatic arc rather than fact-based, from the reflections of the actress on her route into the character (from artifice and impersonation rather than knowledge of the woman being portrayed), and finally from my admittedly subjective fan’s stance, this is not Judy Garland but a fictional superficially researched version of similar character. This is one more (mis)use of the Garland persona that some will defend because it moved them, that others will defend by asserting that a fiction presenting a woman crawling on the floor is truer than the gossamer (they assert) some Garland fans insist upon hearing. I speak up as a fan and a theatre professional who cares about the truth in these kinds of creations, and the disservice this piece of art does to the woman it purports to represent. The sound, the shape, the feel, the language of this play with music all belong to the playwright and this performer, certainly. But a show based on a search for a dramatic arc through fictional characters and fictional situations and character building through diva-study cannot legitimately claim to represent the woman whose name is on this marquee. This may be Tracie Bennett’s diva. But there is no reason, based on available research, based on the words of the playwright himself, based on the legacy of recordings and filmed performances and conversations, that we should see this performance as Judy Garland.

© Martha Wade Steketee (April 2, 2012)

About martha wade steketee

Lover of ghost lights, movies, stories of creative lives, magic of live performance, storytelling in song.

Discussion

24 thoughts on “review: end of the rainbow

  1. A FB but and Judy fan sent me a recent video of Tracie interviewing and performing on a British talk show, promoting the show. The fan who forwarded the vid thought it was incredible, brilliant. I was struck by how callous the performance was and how non-committed she seemed to be about portraying Judy- altho’ she appeared in her Judy drag personae, telling audience she doesn’t look like this. I found her voice, interview and performance to be denigrading and poor. Wow- your review really captures those feelings that came up for me. As for anyone being brilliant; your writing does it for me!

    Posted by ken | April 2, 2012, 2:49 pm
    • Ken, you are a gentleman and very kind about my offerings. I feel as though I fully (too fully perhaps) articulated my reactions to this work and that gives me some, well, peace or something about the whole thing. I am now steeling myself for the range of critical responses the production undoubtedly will inspire. Sigh.

      Posted by martha wade steketee | April 2, 2012, 4:59 pm
      • Your really need to get a life. Judy Garland was not God. She was exactly as portrayed in that play, except much worse at the end. You can bitch and moan all you want about the play but the producers and everyone else involved are happily marching to the bank! Good luck with your incidental comments. You must have way too much time on your hands there girl.

        Posted by Richard Dick | April 5, 2012, 1:40 am
  2. First of all, I didn’t see the play, so I’m only going on my own impressions here. In the pictures of the performance in the NY Times, Tracy Bennett’s makeup as Judy Garland I can only describe as cartoonish. There are certain aspects that ring true…No, she hadn’t been abandoned by her children…but I think they had been distancing themselves from her because of her behavior at the time…and it seems that they were in the process of getting closer again when she passed away….I think she was somewhat alone near the end….but I don’t think that she had been rejected…I think it was by choice….I think it was that she didn’t want the people she loved to see her when she was that ill and not at her best….I do think there were many people who wanted to “save” her….So far, when I google, out of five reviews, there are four “glowing” ones, with yours being the only one that criticizes the production in a negative way. (no..i’m not critizing or saying you are wrong) However, I think what that says is that a majority of people that are seeing the play don’t have the deep knowledge of Judy Garland to know the errors in what I am guessing is a superficial performance. I wish that Ms. Bennett had researched Judy Garland thoroughly. She could have invested the character with some qualities (I’m talking about the soulfulness, it’s hard to put in words…perhaps the “knowingness” that Judy Garland had about life and people) that could have redeemed her performance…I don’t want to see the play…..I will continue to hope that somewhere, someone will have the courage and insite to present a fully realized portrait of this many-facetted, soulful, funning, ironic, loving, flawed woman.

    Posted by ed spraggins | April 2, 2012, 10:15 pm
    • There does seem to be a dramatically almost bi-polar (in the statistical sense of the word), critical response to the play. Check out Linda Winer’s response in Newsday and the Time Out New York review for additional less-than-glowing reactions to the work. Just for the record.

      Posted by martha wade steketee | April 3, 2012, 7:58 am
      • Yes…..Most seem to be saying that they admire the actress, Tracy Bennett, while deploring the vehicle she is in. I do have to say that she has a great amount of guts (and/or a certain naivete) to have put herself out there like that. The thing is that they’ve had a great deal of time to hone the play. It seems to have calcified early on. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the lack of insight and nuance…..well, I should shut up….you have already articulated much and better than I ever would be able to……

        Posted by ed spraggins | April 4, 2012, 9:50 pm
  3. …have just been watching some experpts of the performance on the internet…. the singing of American songs sung in an English accent and appallingly badly sung….the physical appearance more that of a drag queen than an actress endeavoring to inhabit a character….in my 20’s I would have gone to see it in a desparate attempt to deny her death or once again feel the magic of her singing….now watching it on the internet just makes me sad…..what it accomplishes is making me realize anew what the world lost when she died and that just makes me miss her even more……

    Posted by ed spraggins | April 2, 2012, 11:42 pm
  4. Thank you for articulating so clearly what so many of us have been feeling as this play has made its way to Broadway. What a shame that in the cities that meant so much to her (London and New York) the view of her being presented today by this play is so skewed, so without the indefinable magic that made Garland so appealing and her legacy so enduring. It is that amalgam of great talent, humility, strength and tenderness that defined her both on and off stage which seems to have been totally missed by all involved in this production.

    Posted by David Price | April 3, 2012, 6:36 pm
  5. Well after reading that article it’s became aparent to me that Judy Garlan’s fan is a diagnosis…Maybe not only Garland’s fans but any fans at all …still Garland’s fans are really something – because most of them can’t even see how ridiculous they really are. (when, for example,they yell “sing Over the Rainbow” at Liza’s concerts for the last 40 years”-thinking that they are the last keepers of the flame instead of go to psychiatrist and try to get a life…
    Now seriously .I can’t believe that the person who claimes to be a theater critic can blame fellow playwriter for lack of factual truth.Are we tallking about theater piece or newspaper article? No seriously ,lets close “Amadeus” because the dialogs and characters have nothing to do with a real Mozart-why not?-maybe we are hurting feeling of his real fans and great great grandchildren???? What artistic vission?-who heard about that! If they are using real names they have to use every single life fact of Mozart or Moliere or Garland or Piaf-that’s is a rule that turnes some cheap play into the real theater piece-not a great performances,not effective dialogs or well done sets- no-Only Facts can do that to a play…Well why not invite Judy Davis to open her mouth to a tape recorder? Why not invite Lorna Luft and John Fricke to write a couple of acts and Liza to read the notes from the “author” (although mr Fricke will never allow her to participate but she can atleast try) now that would a real theater for army Garlands zombies to enjoy and the other audience member to avoid as a plague.
    Anyway ms Garland herself was smart enough to undertand that there will be always a gap between her real persona (Fransis) and a character (Judy) she played to the rest of her life.She agreed to sell her image as Judy Garland for the opportunity to use her talents, for fame, for money and her vanity and she had never ever complained of any actor or impersonator who used her image for his or her freedom of creative expression-she knew that its goes with a territory and still after 40+ years some fanatics are jumping out of ther pants protecting the person (Garland) which had never ever existed in a real world only in theirs imagination….Now I think it’s a time to write a play about some imaginable Garland fan as some freak Don Quixote of the modern day….It looks that ridiculous…
    and no Liza would never agree with you – she is smart enough to know that when it comes to art her negative impression is nothing more than her own personal problem….

    Posted by Rich | April 5, 2012, 7:13 pm
    • There certainly are critics who share your positive view of the work. I tried to state my concerns clearly, and those things I thought were landing with the audience (even if they didn’t “land” with me) just as clearly. Without resorting to personal attacks or psychological analyses of those who have different opinions of this piece of theatre than I do.

      Thanks for taking the time to respond.

      Posted by martha wade steketee | April 5, 2012, 7:23 pm
  6. You have certainly made it clear about your hatred for Bennett. If you listen to her on NY radio interview [link below] you will hear that she did indeed do a ‘hell of a lot of research’ for the part. An actor of her calibre, two Olivier’s and one Olivier nomination for this role plus an Audi International award, incidently awarded by America; plus several other theater awards, does not give a terrible performance as you are trying to make out. I too was in the audience on the 2nd April and she received a ten minute standing ovation from a very appreciative audience.
    The ones that criticise her make-up, are you truly theater goers? Of course theater make-up is exaggerated so that the audience, those sitting further back particulaly, can see the actors features. Close up photos therefore will look OTT.
    Derek Jewell’s review [London Sunday Times] about Judy’s appearance at the Talk Of The town is…”She walks the brim of a volcano. Miraculously she keeps her balance. her voice is flawed except for when she belts out ‘Just In Time’. She sits at the edge of the stage and talks through ‘Somewhere Over The rainbow’ because she can’t reach the notes.” etc etc
    Lord Michael Grade who worked with Judy in London watched this production in London and said Bennett had got Judy exactly, as that’s how Judy was….difficult to deal with, on drugs, cigarettes but still retained her sense of humour. He liked it so much that he flew to NY to see it again.
    Several celebs have gone back stage to meet Bennett and compliment her on her tour de force performance and marvel at how she has the stamina to do 8 shows a week. Elaine Stritch said, ” You are wonderful Tracie.” and she should know.
    The handful of critics that almost agree with yours, I wonder if they’re bitter queens/relatives of the family or friends of stars whom they deem should have got the role. What they fail to accept is that Judy in her last few months was a wreck which the public never saw. The public only saw her ‘other’ personna on stage. Only people that worked or were close to her really knew what she was really like; which was nothing like we all remember her as when she was in her prime.
    Bennett has already been nominated for three awards in the USA and we’ll wait to see what happens on Tuesday when the Tony nominations are announced.
    http://www.wnyc.org/shows/soundcheck/2012/apr/27/tracie-bennett/

    Posted by Nick | April 29, 2012, 2:36 pm
    • Hello Nick. Well yes I listened to that interview with Tracie Bennett on Friday’s WNYC radio show live as it aired. Nothing she says in that interview changes my impression of the show I saw on March 29th … or about her development of the character. I have seen Ms. Bennett in nothing else but this role. I certainly have no hatred for her. I simply attempt above to analyze what I saw before me on stage. As someone who knew this play (on paper) before going in, and as someone who knows quite a bit about the life of Garland and has heard tapes of performances of many nights of the TOTT engagement — my opinions have not changed.

      I do admit that I am chagrined the Elaine Strich would have the reaction you report to Bennett’s performance, but that’s Stritch’s reaction, not mine. I am a great admirer of Stritch and know of her long friendship with Garland. …

      And for the record, the critical reaction has been quite divided here about the Broadway production. I am not among a “handful” but a healthy chorus of individuals who find the production wanting.

      p.s. thanks for the clarification of the name of the person Bennett mentioned in her interview as someone who was around Judy at the time of the TOTT engagement .. Michael Grade. I hadn’t read his name before so this is useful to me …. Others who were around Garland on a daily basis during that time, including Lorna Smith who acted as dresser to her and has written about her years of knowing Garland, saw a very different woman during those weeks than this production presents. And was appalled at this show.

      Posted by martha wade steketee | April 29, 2012, 2:47 pm
  7. I read Lorna’s book and was shocked that near the end, she only got to be close with Judy once!!!!!!!!
    ‘Read Weep No More My Lady’ by Mickey Deans. He is honest about her.
    Also IMO it is sooo wrong for critics to see a show before press night. Previews are for the cast/crew to iron out any problems before then
    Joan Rivers/Alec Baldwin and others have gone backstage as they can’t believe what a wonderful performance Bennett gives. Maybe you should go again to see it, with an open mind and without all your negative thoughts.
    I am sure Whitney Houston/Michael Jackson were entirely different people than they displayed to ‘us’.
    Bennett was a huge hit in Minneapolis too.

    Posted by Nick | April 29, 2012, 3:05 pm
    • Nick: Lorna spent time with Judy on a daily basis during the TOTT run. I’m not sure what you’re referring to with the “only got to be close with Judy once” in your comments.

      [EDIT: I've read just about every memoir, biography, and essay on Garland. Some oh so painfully ill-conceived. The book by Lorna Smith I'm referring to here addresses her experiences with Garland at TOTT in December 1968 and January 1969/ Judy With Love published in 1975. Chapter 17 "It Should Never Have Happened", pages 151-167, addresses this engagement and outlines Smith's daily experiences with Garland during that time.]

      And press attend performances prior to formal opening (if they are reviewing) for most shows. This is the way it works here. Press performances are held for most shows the week or so before opening. Critics then post their reviews, which they have had some time to prepare, the evening of a show’s opening.

      Just for your information.

      Posted by martha wade steketee | April 29, 2012, 3:10 pm
    • And it is incorrect to state the Bennett was huge hit in Minneapolis — the critics certainly had similar reactions to mine in their reviews. As I noted in my final paragraph — it is clear that people are responding emotionally to the performance. That individuals have gone backstage to give Bennett their congratulations is lovely. That doesn’t change my impressions. One exposure to this production for me was quite enough.

      Posted by martha wade steketee | April 29, 2012, 3:16 pm
  8. I agree that some critics haven’t liked the play but they have not slated Bennett’s performance. I do live here and know the press arrangements but still don’t agree that they see previews.
    Martha, celebs won’t go anywhere near backstage if they don’t like the production/performer it doesn’t do their own reputation any good.
    I didn’t get what Lorna said either but it wiped out the whole of everything else she’d written…for me. A bad writer IMO…and I am a writer. But we could go on for days on this subject, shall we agree to disagree?

    Posted by Nick | April 29, 2012, 3:40 pm
    • Sure we can agree to disagree Nick.

      Just additional clarification — the performances critics usually attend are specifically designated by the production as “press performances”, i.e. they have been invited to attend on dates selected by the production for this purpose. They’re not slipping in to see a show during just any preview performance but during one selected by the production for this purpose. Just a point of fact for clarification.

      Posted by martha wade steketee | April 29, 2012, 3:45 pm
  9. So a Tony nomination for Bennett, excellent.
    In Lorna Smith’s book, she insists Judy didn’t drink. Video tape recordings that, Judy did herself in her house [London] during the past few months of her life, contradict that. They are on You Tube; there are three.
    They are quite harrowing to listen to and upsetting but nevertheless, they were Judy’s thoughts at that time and very drunk she was.
    If you care to go into You Tube, search for Judy Garland/drunk.
    BTW, Tony Bennett a very close friend of Judy went to see the play and went backstage to congratulate the cast and to congratulate Bennett on her performance.
    I’m not trying to sway your mind, how could I? It’s just that I wish to point out how close friends would know Judy more than anyone else, and they are agreed that this play portrays Judy exactly as she was in those last months.

    Posted by Nick | May 12, 2012, 8:51 am
    • Yes I have heard the infamous “Judy Speaks” tapes — which were recorded by Garland several years BEFORE the era of her TOTT engagement in London (just after she was forced to sell her LA home for back taxes, yet another phase of the financial morass left her by husbands and managers who mismanaged her finances in those years). The recordings were private and destined for her use in developing an autobiography that never materialized. The fact that those recordings ever saw the light of day and were made available to the public is a disgrace. (The fact that someone may have used that audio to accompany visuals in videos uploaded to youtube is another level of lack of taste.) It should be noted that these recordings by Garland reflect a few evenings of Garland sitting by herself with a tape recorder — several years before the TOTT engagement. They were not “Judy’s thoughts at the time” of the TOTT engagement in late 1968-early 1969 but were rather thoughts expressed several years before.

      And reports of people going backstage to Bennett are lovely, just don’t add anything to the story for me. There are many people who also knew Garland who are staying away from the project, who are aghast at the EOTR portrayal and the play in general.

      Posted by martha wade steketee | May 12, 2012, 9:18 am
  10. I only listened to the tape for less than a minute or so [couldn't bear it] and heard one of them say it was taped when she was in London in her house [which she only obtained in the TOTT period, she lived in Hotels before then;] but regardless, she was a drinker. How anyone can laugh at her when she was obviously under so much mental stress, I will never know. I suspect Lorna Smith wears rose coloured glasses though.
    I can understand some of Judy’s friends not wishing to go to the play. Like others, they seem to assume it’s derogatory when in fact it displays how she was controlled by everyone from being a child. Given drugs which she then needed all her life eventually to the expense of her health. But it also shows us how funny/witty she was, even in her darkest times when she was penniless but we never laugh at Judy, we laugh with her because ‘she’ is so funny. [Something I never knew]
    The play is a behind the scenes ‘look in’ which the public never got to see/experience.
    When a writer can make an audience laugh and cry, he/she has done their job and a good one at that.
    You must appreciate that, being a writer yourself.
    regards

    Posted by Nick | May 12, 2012, 11:24 am
    • ah, now i know which clips of the tapes (plus commentary) you’re referring to that were posted on youtube. some DJs aired snippets and commented on their radio show, and pieces of this show were then assembled into something posted as “video”. as you can now see, these charming DJ characters got most of their facts wrong, including details about where Garland was when she made these originally *private* tapes. She was not being interviewed, she was making recordings for her own use. She was in LA not London, several years before the TOTT engagement.

      I can appreciate good writing of course. I don’t appreciate fiction being presented as fact in this kind of production, however. when I read the published 2005 script of this play several years ago, i could appreciate the humor there, certainly. and yet — even at that point of reading the printed version of the play i was appalled at the errors in fact and the misrepresentation of Garland’s condition at the time. And in this production, along with everything else … Garland was much frailer and reflective and in general calmer than almost any moment captured by Bennett …. and (see my review above) my reactions to Bennett’s performance adds fuel to that reaction: I was then and remain appalled.

      Quilter is quoted in my review above regarding the “truth” of this play .. he said in response to how much research he did: “Bio plays so often get bogged down in facts and figures and a desperate need to be precise. I was more interested in a dramatic play that is inspired by these events rather than being a factual documentary of them.”

      Garland was indeed a very funny woman. Watch her on film or her television series or in almost any interview and you’ll see it, in her own words, in her own style.

      Posted by martha wade steketee | May 12, 2012, 12:39 pm
  11. Martha, your write-up is negative from start to finish as you were obviously determined not to like the production or Bennett. I saw the original production which was titled The Last Song Of The Nightingale and the lead character, strangely, was called Martha. There was a pianist and Martha’s son in the cast but no ‘Judy’ songs. Quilter has totally rewritten the play since then which must be ten/eleven years ago. Terry Johnson is an award winning director, [ a Tony included] there is no way he would allow an actor to get it wrong. Bennett herself has numerous awards including two Olivier’s.
    Now, the following is an extract out of Mickey Deans’ book, Weep No More My lady’ and he should know…..[he's talking about her performance at TOTT]…
    …………………………………………………….
    Sometimes she wielded the microphone cord like a lion-tamer’s whip. She did dance steps. She strutted, arms akimbo. Her movements were suddenly grotesque, like a marionette’s. She threw her arms up stiffly, her legs came together at the knees. She was wet with perspiration.
    David Jewell’s review at the time [ London Sunday Times] said…” No logic, no analysis, no judgment in the world can completely explain the phenomenon of Judy Garland’s performance at Talk Of The Town. She walks the brim of a volcano each second. Miraculously she keeps her balance. It is a triumph of utmost improbability.”
    …………………………………………………………….
    Grotesque???? Brim of a volcano?????

    Your quote……….”Garland was frailer, reflective, calmer than almost any moment captured by Bennett?????”
    Doesn’t sound like Judy was calm at all.
    Regards

    Posted by Nick | May 12, 2012, 1:21 pm
    • Nick — my reference to Garland being “frail” was the backstage reality … not the backstage fictions complete with dog barking shenanigans this play furnishes. i’m well aware of Mickey Deans’ book. We can stop quoting at each other now. And let the piles of positive and negative reviews assemble. There are others to whom you can address your defense of this play and this performance who have printed their responses that mirror mine.

      Best wishes.

      Posted by martha wade steketee | May 12, 2012, 1:29 pm
  12. Martha, I just saw the play in Los Angeles – sue me, I had to. Agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts.

    Posted by Randy Henderson | March 13, 2013, 12:05 pm

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