The purest specimen of utopian yearning in the Great American Songbook, “Over the Rainbow” could be a song of innocence or a song of experience. For innocence, check out The Wizard of Oz, currently on the main stage of The Playhouse, where young Dorothy longs to escape dreary Kansas. But for experience (and an utterly riveting theatrical experience), step downstairs to the intimate Cellar Theater, to conjure up the original Dorothy, Judy Garland, months before her death in 1969 at age 47. Set in London, in a hotel room, a radio studio and a nightclub, Peter Quilter’s End of the Rainbow captures the moment when the Yellow Brick Road reaches a dead end. Judy has arrived in the British capital for a six-week engagement that, she proclaims, will be “the biggest success of my career.” We know better.
Staring out her hotel window at the crowd assembled below, Judy observes: “I think they’re waiting for me to jump.” From Dido and Cleopatra to Billie Holiday and Marilyn Monroe, public prurience has feasted on the spectacle of brilliant women who self-destruct. End of the Rainbow can be enjoyed merely as cabaret theater, in which, accompanied by a vibrant four-piece band, Anna Gangai belts out 10 musical standards, from “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” to “Over the Rainbow.” But her extraordinarily complex impersonation of a manic-depressive diva who is by turns imperious, kittenish, delirious and despondent is a career-capping achievement. In the first act, Gangai provides a master class in interpreting songs. But in the second, when, fortified by pills and booze, Judy returns to a stage she fled in panic, Gangai crafts a consummate image of stellar implosion.
Two foils highlight Judy’s disintegration—her new fiancé Mickey and her pianist Anthony. Chris Berry’s Mickey is a young hunk in line to be husband number five. A gold-digger who tries to preserve his cash cow by denying Judy any drugs or alcohol, he ends up plying the singer with drugs and alcohol in order to get her to perform. Yet Mickey does love her in his own way, putting him at odds with Anthony, who is British, caustic and gay. For all his cynicism, Anthony, played adroitly by Byrd Bonner, is hopelessly infatuated with Judy, whom he tries to protect from a bounder like Mickey.
Somewhere over the rainbow ... the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true. Directed by Tim Hedgepeth and Mark McCarver, End of the Rainbow is the true fulfillment of a heart-rending theatrical dream.
End of the Rainbow
8pm Fri-Sat, 3pm Sun
800 W Ashby
Through November 2