Judy Garland top 

End of The Rainbow

Wolverhampton Grand

*****

JUDY Garland’s death from a barbiturate overdose in 1969 marked the tragic end of a troubled and fragile life.

The little girl who skipped down the yellow brick road went on to lose her way in catastrophic style as she battled one demon after another. Flawed and battered by her addictions, the end of the rainbow was sadly never far away.

Peter Quilter’s gutsy play takes up the story not long before Garland’s death as she embarks on a series of concerts at London’s Talk of The Town towards the end of 1968.

On a set that doubles as her hotel room and the glitzy stage itself, the story ebbs and flows between her entangled relationships and snippets of her performance.

Quilter resists any urge to glamourise his depiction; it’s an honest, earthy account - far from rose coloured and with its fair share of expletives.

Exchanges between Garland and her soon to be fifth husband, Mickey Deans, and her devoted pianist, Anthony Chapman, are fueled by a constant, toxic diet of drugs and booze.

At her best her passion is infectious. She fills the room, commanding (and getting ) adoration. At her worst, when the pay-off inevitably kicks in, she is childlike, exhausted and utterly lost. As the spiral continueJudy and Anthonys, she grows incapable of holding on to love and is barely able to get through a performance.

This is no concealed attempt to shoehorn in some well-known songs around a thin piece of narrative. Nor is it a Stars In Your Eyes impression show. While the songs are delivered exquisitely, it’s the drama that cuts through and leaves the most lasting impression. Garland thrived on drama. She needed it. When everyday life couldn't provide it, she sought it outside reality.

Lisa Maxwell as Judy and Gary Wilmot as her gay friend, confidante and pianist Anthony Chapman

Barely off the stage, Lisa Maxwell is something of a revelation as Garland. Diminutive in stature, as the lady was, but giving a towering performance on every level. The quivering vulnerability of that iconic singing voice, the angled gestures, the switch from happy to sad in an instant - all captured to perfection.

This must have been a huge challenge for Maxwell whose back catalogue is not theatre heavy. She meets it with aplomb and delivers a genuine tour de force.

Casting Directors must file Gary Wilmot under Dependable and solid. Here, he provides a calming, measured antidote to Maxwell’s erratic energy. Wilmot plays Anthony Chapman, Garland’s homosexual pianist.  

Fiercely protective and loyal to his fading employer, Chapman did all he could to save her. The scene where he tries to persuade Garland to live with him in domestic bliss in Brighton - ‘Do you like Shepherd’s Pie?’ - is beautifully played by both actors.

Sam Attwater impresses as Mickey Deans, Garland's manager and final husband while Simon Pontin purrs nicely as the Radio Interviewer.

Directed by Daniel Buckroyd for Colchester Mercury Theatre, this is a must see production. Beautifully written with a central performance that simply raises the roof. Forget your troubles and get yourself a ticket. To 20-04-16

Tom Roberts

18-04-16 

Judy Garland was found dead by Mickey Deans in the bathroom of their rented mews house in Chelsea on 22 June, 1969, just 12 days after her 47th birthday. At the inquest coroner Gavin Thursdon gave the cause of death as an ‘incautious self-overdosage’ of barbiturates; stressing the overdose had been unintentional and there was no evidence she had committed suicide.

Catching a falling star 

*****

PETITE actress Lisa Maxwell gives a towering performance as fading global star Judy Garland in this story of the American singer’s five-week come-back tour at London’s Talk of the Town.

It is a tough role to play, dealing with the great lady’s drink and drug problems as well as trying to replicate that iconic voice, but she succeeds and thoroughly deserved thejudy and Mickey immediate and emotionalstanding ovation received at the end of opening night.

Lisa, of TV’s Loose Women fame, had a special voice coach before agreeing to accept the part, and she clearly satisfied Garland fans with The Man That Got Away, Come Rain or Come Shine and, naturally, Over the Rainbow.

It’s agonising to watch at times as the star grapples with her own demons while coping with a new young fiancé who is prepared to shovel pills and drink down her throat to get her on stage and pull in the cash when she is reluctant to leave her hotel, and just wants to be loved for herself.

Lisa Maxwell as Judy with Sam Attwater as Mickey Deans, her manager and final husband

And Lisa has to be able to swear like a trooper as well as sing like a star to give a graphic indication of life away from the glitz and glamour. Her acting when the star has gulped down pills intended for a cocker spaniel is remarkable.

And that underlines the fact that, for all the heartbreak scenes, the show, produced by Paul Taylor-Mills, has some wonderfully humorous moments.

Gary Wilmot is hugely impressive, too, as Garland’s gay, caring and protective accompanist, Anthony Chapman, with Sam Attwater a convincing Mickey Deans, who marries the star shortly before she dies in London of an overdose of barbituates. She was just 47.

To 20.04.16

Paul Marston 

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