By Barry Reszel
Angela Ingersoll as Judy Garland in Porchlight Music Theatre’s Chicago premiere of End of the Rainbow is about as Lazarus as it gets.
Lazarus of Bethany or Lazarus of the Four Days is a character from the Biblical Gospel of John to whom Jesus restores life four days after his death. Indeed to see Ingersoll on the Belmont Ave. stage brings Garland back to life. She is just that good.
Though, truth be told, if Garland’s reanimation was a possibility, it’s hard to think she would choose to relive the days around which this production revolves: December 1968, a matter of months before the singer’s death in June of ’69.
Peter Quilter‘s dramatic play with a healthy serving of Garland’s concert music begins with Garland entering her London suite at the Ritz with young new fiancé Mickey Deans and loyal gay friend and pianist Anthony, preparing for her five-week run of shows at the Talk of the Town cabaret. Deans and Garland hope the run will inject her image with stardust and her bank accounts with seemingly needed cash. But her addictions to drugs and alcohol along with relationship disorders with both straight and gay men turn the spotlight away from her center stage talent as the production shifts between the hotel suite and the concert venue.
This show debuted in 2005, at Australia’s Sydney Opera House in 2005 and transferred to London’s West End where it won four Olivier Awards. The 2012 Broadway production played 160 shows and earned three Tony nominations, including one for Tracie Bennett as Best Actress in a Play.
Porchlight’s rendition features Kyle Hatley as Dean, Garland’s manager, enabler and fiancee who became her fifth husband; and Jon Steinhagen who doubles as her English pianist/representative of Garland’s adoring throng of gay men as well as the production’s excellent music director. Kudos go, too, to Bill Morey‘s typically excellent costuming and Christopher Rhoton‘s elegant and functional hotel room set that opens to reveal the full orchestra at the Talk of the Town.
Indeed, any biopic of a performer like Garland would feel wanting without including a significant piece of her songbook. To that end, neither Ingersoll nor End of the Rainbow disappoints. Songs include: “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”/”Just In Time” (Medley), “I Could Go On Singing,” “Smile,” “The Bells Are Ringing for Me and My Girl”/”You Made Me Love You”/”The Trolley Song”” (Medley), “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,” “The Man That Got Away,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “When You’re Smiling,” “San Francisco,” “When the Sun Comes Out,” “Get Happy”/”By Myself” (Medley) and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
But it’s truly through the relationship of Garland with the two leading men (Felipe Jorge additionally portrays a number of ancillary characters) that Director Michael Weber paints a vivid picture of an American icon’s last stand. And while, yes, there are tender moments (the second act’s opening scene in which Anthony helps Garland put on her makeup is particularly memorable), the focus here is on Garland’s near final unhinging.
Ingersoll is extraordinarily convincing as the woman who is to die of a barbiturate overdose six months later. If End of the Rainbow is at all biographical, it’s a bit surprising she lasted that long. Because this is a raw, loud, foul-mouthed, drug and alcohol-induced wild party crazy enough to make Andrew Lippa blush.
Porchlight’s Rainbow is all it can be.
And mostly, incredibly sad.
Porchlight Music Theatre presents “End of the Rainbow” at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, through December 9. More information and tickets are available here.