By Peter Quilter. Directed by Claude Giroux. A production of Ace Productions. At the Jericho Arts Centre on Thursday, May 11. Continues until May 20
Nearly 50 years after her death, Judy Garland is still a legend. As a tribute to an icon, End of the Rainbow comes up short.
The premise of British playwright Peter Quilter’s 2005 script, which tracks a late-career comeback attempt in London by the beloved but unstable American superstar, should make for riveting drama (or at least a decent movie of the week), but this production falls flat.
The play opens with Garland arriving in her London hotel room and complaining about how small it is. Everything in her life has taken a downturn, it seems, except her romance with new fiancé Mickey Deans. (Deans would become her fifth and last husband.) Garland’s accompanist, Anthony Chapman, doesn’t trust Mickey (and neither do we). The action of the play shifts back and forth between the hotel room, where Judy, Mickey, and Anthony engage in power struggles over her ability and willingness to perform, and the performances themselves.
Quilter’s script has problems—clunky exposition, lack of clear dramatic stakes—and director Claude Giroux only compounds them in this production. The hotel-room scenes are agonizingly slow, and his blocking of the concert scenes has Janet Gigliotti, who plays Judy Garland, sitting on the floor for more than one number. Gigliotti is an extremely capable performer, but her singing here lacks the eccentricity that made Garland a legend, and she’s not sufficiently fragile or unhinged in her confrontations with Anthony and Mickey to give us any emotional investment in her character’s unravelling. I can understand the impulse to resist impersonating such a well-known figure, but Judy needs to be more of a train wreck than Gigliotti makes her. Jeffery Hoffman is an unconvincing Mickey: he’s slow to pick up his cues, and while his vocal delivery is often flat, he affects smouldering facial expressions worthy of a silent-film villain. Gordon Roberts fares better as Anthony, whose concern for Judy is genuinely affecting, and his piano-playing is solid.
Giroux also designed the set, which features a handsome arch over the hotel room and its upstage grand piano, behind which we can see the shadows of the other musicians, bassist Matthew Simmons and drummer Colin Parker. Tiffany Bishop’s costumes are period-perfect, and Stephen Bulat’s lighting injects pizzazz into the songs.
But the two-hour running time feels very long. Judy Garland deserves better.