Saturday 6 May 2017

End of the Rainbow engages our ear & heart

All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night &
those costumes & the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

Judy Garland's last show in London -- a meteor just months from flaming out. 
Ryan Crocker photo.
From the footlights : ACE Productions steals directly from NYT's critic Ben Brantley (April 2, 2012) to describe their Jericho Arts Centre show that tells the tale of Judy Garland's last days : " 'She had perilous bipolar energy that so often animates great performers. Touch this woman at your own risk. She burns... Every chapter of Garland's history is alive : she is foul-mouthed, flirtatious, erotic, childlike, unedited, manipulative and supremely self-conscious as she makes love and war' with her keepers."

Two principal men join Janet Gigliotti doing Judy in this Peter Quilter script directed by Claude Giroux. As the world recently witnessed with supernova singer Amy Winehouse, when a comet burns up in what began as a stratospheric arc, the results are at once breathtaking and extremely sad, too. 

Making Garland into a believable and tragic figure -- a woman trying for renasence and redemption though at 46 she was notoriously past her prime & a pill-popping drunk -- this is the wee challenge ACE Productions accepted when they bought this script. The show's events happened many moons ago. Why should we care in light of today's world?

How it's all put together :  Rainbow focuses not only on Judy but on her latest husband, a youthful Mickey Deans (Jeffrey Hoffman) who is her manager, ringmaster and enabler. Her piano accompaniest Anthony Chapman (Gordon Roberts) is Garland's sympathetic sounding board, lit.-&-fig., who tries to rescue Judy from both herself and from Deans.

The scenes toggle between London's Talk of The Town nite club where Garland's Last Stand took place in December 1968 and the hotel room where she repaired, so to speak, nightly. It is in the claustrophobic confines of that hotel room that the struggles among the characters pose the great existential question : to what extent is anyone their own creator / destroyer -vs- what contextual forces contribute fatefully and fatally to one's life course? 

What the show brings to the stage : The comparison to Amy Winehouse is on purpose. Anyone who hears, today, her cover of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" or "Tears Dry On Their Own" can't squelch the ache that such raw but chiseled beauty should have killed itself off, in her case at rock's magic death-age, 27.

"Trolley Song", "The Man That Got Away", and of course "Over The Rainbow" are all vintage Garland charts that Gigliotti riffs off with energy and grace and foreshadowing of Garland's impending implosion from an overdose just six months after the London gig.

Production values that shine : The set by director Giroux is a clever "overdub" of a junior suite at Picadilly's Circus's Ritz Hotel atop Bernard Delfont's Talk of the Town night club formerly located at Leicester Square's Hippodrome a few blocks away. The baby grand was plunked capably and entertainingly by Gordon Roberts, with nice subtle support by the duo of Matthew Simmons on bass and a delightfully understated Colin Parker on snare.

Lighting effects by Stephen Bulat were effective, though the blackouts and chiaroscuro fade-outs between night club and hotel scenes were at times unnecessarily longish.

One slightly off-key half-note. While Tiffany Bishop's threads for characters Mickey Deans and Anthony Chapman were spot-on for their roles and the times, fact is Judy Garland was famous for her outlandish and effervescent costumes to match her personality. Doing Janet Gigliotti up in a series of LBD's with scarves didn't much match memory.

Acting pin-spots : Ms. Gigliotti is a voice to be reckoned. Strong and lyrical for many of the charts she performed, she was also capable of great subtlety, finesse and nuance. Her rendition of "Come Rain or Come Shine" brought on unbidden tears. And her final short-stanza cut of "Over The Rainbow" melted hearts the room through.

The only "complaint" might be that she wasn't slurry and hicuppy and cracked-voice enough to match these final concerts by Garland (see Addendum), though her stage blocking imparted those effects well for each post-concert Ritz scene.

Aside from his charming Elton John keyboard moments, Gordon Roberts' best scene in the show had to be his plea to Garland to come away with him and become his "love" in Brighton instead of marrying Mickey Deans. The touchingness of this due to the fact that his character Anthony was the composite gay representing how popular Judy was with that entire community, particularly in California, in her day. He promised to hunt up johns for Judy at the end of the Brighton pier when she got horny.

Who gonna like : The question posed above "Why should we care in light of today's world?" is answered, simply, because this script tells a tale of compulsion and traps and pitfalls that have universal appeal. And the music of Judy Garland to boot.

The Quilter script engages because it captures the dynamic of a wizard (!) stage personality. But one, alas, borne of a life of drugs begun as a grammar school kid whose mom wanted her to make it in Hollywood with 05:00 curtain calls. Ritalin was the go-to favourite because as I remember it from college it delightfully focuses the memory and truly helps keep one awake [36 consecutive hours once for me]. But then Secanol is Ritalin's alter ego, the drug that Garland ultimately used to kill herself in June 1969 (via 10X the recommended daily dosage).

This is, to quote a friend met at today's show, "not the usual musical we are accustomed to". No. It is a drama of personal crisis and demise that touches the heart. It also features a swack of concert pieces made famous by Garland that utterly please the ear. No Cats or Mama Mia!, this is small-stage musical intimacy the will engage and embrace and, wonderfully, sadden you just long enough to demonstrate what a dramatic delight it truly is.
Particulars :  Produced at Jericho Arts Centre, 1675 Discovery Street, Vancouver. Until May 20. Tickets & schedule information 1.800.838.3006.  Online tix @ brownpapertickets.comRun-time two hours including intermission. 

Production team : Director Claude Giroux.  Musical Director Gordon Roberts.  Stage Manager Nico Dicecco.  Set Designer Claude Giroux.  Costume Designer Tiffany Bishop.  Lighting / Sound Designer Stephen Bulat.  Set Construction Michael Smith, John Hutchinson, Mike Lord, Peter Dunsford.  Scenic Painter Athena Ivison.  Technical Director Stephen Bulat.  Lighting Operator Nico Dicecco.  Props Janice Howell. Photography Ryan Crocker.  Poster & Graphic Design Andrew Johnstone. Publicity Maryanne Renzetti.

Performers : Janet Gigliotti (Judy Garland).  Jeffrey Hoffman (Mickey Deans).  Gordon Roberts (Anthony Chapman).  Matthew Simmons (Porter/Interviewer/ASM).  Colin Parker (Drummer).

Musicians :  Gordon Roberts (Piano).  Matthew Simmons (Bass).  Colin Parker (Drums).

Addendum :y
December, 1968 reviews in London press
[media sources not named]

By James Green

Judy Garland's London cabaret debut last night at the Talk of the Town was part happening, part experience, and all nostalgia.

Predictably the nervy and restless Miss Garland, so slim and boyish at 46 she might have been Peter Pan, turned in a raw emotion-packed powerhouse performance.

Here and there the voice cracked noticably and the notes were ragged. She herself said before sitting cross-legged on the stage and singing Over the Rainbow "I may croak a bit."

She did. But its's the 12,480th time she's sung it and it still gets homage.
There was standing room only before she came out, and a mood of instant hysteria among an audience determined to clap itself silly. 

It applauded the overture.Gave a big hand for the curtains. A few bars of the wedding march and it would have weeped.

Soon-to-be-wed Miss Garland finally appeared in a bronze Beau Brummell trouser suit alive with sequins and gold beads.

She straightaway threw her heart to the mob - Ginger Rogers, Zsa Zsa Gabour, Danny La Rue and Johnny Ray among them - while belting out "I belong to London".

An hour later she left to a rave reception with the reminder "A Londoner I'll always be." It was kisses and squeals, schmaltz and worship, sugar and syrup.

"We love you Judy," cried the faithful, "And I love you," came the response.

It was that kind of night. She sang 12 of the songs that make her Judy Garland and treated it as a private party.

She pretended not to remember or care what came next and laughed at herself with lines like: "I haven't learned a new song since Covered Wagon.Not since andy Hardy met Deanna Durbin. Now what do we do?"

Plus a show stopping: "I've been through a lot. People ask 'Is she going to appear? Is she dead?' Well I'm here and you couldn't keep me away."

She has personality-plus, and if the voice has taken a beating she can wake up the town with songs like Just in Time, Rock-a-bye, The Trolley Song and You Made Me Love You.

Judy still has punch. She has the star quality, magnetism and confidence to bend the rules and indulge herself with an undisciplined take it or leave it act.

They took it - and shouted for more. Like it or not her standard dabbling in emotions and nerve ends, she is what the business is about.

She may no longer be the little girl crying for the rainbow...the voice may waver and the notes come business may eat it's young...but the formerFrances Ethel Gumm retains most of the magic given her by the wizard of Oz.

Yes Judy Garland is alive and well and queening it in London.

Judy's Great Artistry Triumphs

By Andy Gray

Singers with artistry have a great advantage - when their voices starts to go their artistry remains. Hat's off to the greatest singing artist of them all - Judy Garland, who can still hit the big note to end "Rockabye" and bring the house down.

It was excitement all the way at the Talk Of The Town on Monday, what with a legal battle raging to see if it would be a one-night stand or a 5-week season for her (it's a season and a hooray for de Judge). But after the Talk orchestra, under Burt Rhodes baton had played for quite a while and no Judy appeared one wondered if she was going to.

(She even cracked later : "Something extrordinary for me...not only have I appeared, but I am singing a new song." This was all about having a whale of a time at night and to hell with the morning).

She did make an entrance eventually in the sparkling, bejewelled organy suit, looking slimmer than I ever have seen her with a leprechaun haircut and green scarf round her neck.

For one hour she alternately bowed in thanks for the great reception she got, sang with concentration and dithered about between numbers asking Bert what came next and overdoing the 'relaxed' bit. But we all loved her. Her "I belong to London" was a bit goo-ey, but we believed her, and standards like "Man that got away", "Trolley Song", "Chicago" and "Over the Rainbow" were all socko hits.

For a breather, she coaxed Danny La Rue on-stage and he plugged his chart-maker, "On Mother Kelley's Doorstep," with Judy joining in. The tune has stayed with me ever since, along with the memory that Judy is a great artist and we're so happy paid us all a call.

Judy: Still on the way to Oz

By Ray Connolly

Last night Judy Garland appeared at the Talk Of the Town - and if I pay scant attention to her trembling uncontrolled vibrato, and flat, cracked notes it is because her appeal to the audience last night did not rely on singing ability. Her voice is not the world's greatest, but this hardly detracts from a remarkable performance. To have mentioned it at all seems rather an unkind irrelevancy.

Last night her audience (the biggest I've ever seen at the Talk of The Town) was ecstatic. She didn't need to be able to sing, and in fact, she didn't overwork on that particular score. It was enough that she could scamble through that remarkably melodic bunch of songs with which she is associated - The Man That Got Away, Rock-a-Bye, You Made Me Love You, etc.

And yet I must admit she is truly a riveting entertainer. Now 47 she is still Dorothy on the way to Oz: still the little girl packed with spirit and fighting her way against some enormous odds: still an explosive compound of pathos, self mockery, guts and comedy. She bawls, she totters, she does a mocking little tap dance, and she struts and marches - all arched back and flaying arms like some very grand principal boy in her sequined Pearly Queen trouser suit.

"They tell me I'm a legend." she quips , and it is not for us to question how or why she should have attracted such a reputation. She has, and it is only in this context that it is now useful to regard her.

During a remarkable performance of flying kisses and jokes for her stageside enthusiasts, she dragged Danny La Rue up to give us a song ("I know it's my night - but I'm tired"), used her M.D; Burt Rhodes, as a straight man for her frequent and lengthy comic asides, and generally gave an impression of complete disorientation.

To say that she played to her gallery would be to do her constant rapport with her army of devotees less than justice, and to complain that much of her bewteen songs dialogue was indistinct and confusing would be to miss the point of her appeal. It is precisely this gloriously defiant pathos which is the character of her charisma.

The climax of the ritual was , of course, Somewhere Over The Rainbow, which she sang quietly sitting cross-legged on the floor under a single shaft of spotlight.

It always was a great song.....

Danny La Rue makes an unexpected stage appearance!

By John Denison

Ray Connolly's thoroughly on-target appreciation of Judy Garland's extraordinary talent [December 31] should be required reading for everyone who thinks they know what show business is all about.

I remember Hollywood's Roger Edens (who guided Judy through her biggest movie successess as her musical arranger) saying that really only three stars could create such magic with an audience in this centuary. In his opinion they were Al Jolson, Ethel Merman and Miss Garland.

THe opening Monday proved to so many of us that he was probably right- this girl is still something to marvel at.

To Danny La Rue must surely go full marks for his handling of an unexpected on-stage appearance - something which could have easily mis-fired and particularly under the circumstances which would have defeated many a "professional".


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