Somewhere over the rainbow way up high
There's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby
Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true
When someone mentions Judy Garland, most have some idea that comes to mind. To many, the image could even be of young Dorothy, looking to the sky from her Kansas, longing for an exciting life “somewhere over the rainbow.” I know this was the image that filled my head as I walked into Porchlight’s production ofEnd of the Rainbow, which explores the later years of Judy Garland’s life. However, if you know anything more of Judy Garland, you may have an inkling that her life went well past those early years in ruby red slippers.The story that took the stage showcased the sad, harsh realities of Garland’s life that make this not only a story worth telling, but also one that should be shared.
A Short Introduction
Before discussing the play, it feels important to provide a little background on Garland’s life. She began her singing and acting career early as part of a trio with her two sisters. The vaudevillian singing act was a hit, and by the time she hit her teen years, Garland was picked up by MGM Studios for films including Meet Me in Saint Louis, The Harvey Girls, and of course, the famous Wizard of Oz.
Garland received numerous awards for her work including a Tony Award, Golden Globe Award, and an Academy Award.
However, that good fortune was not always so easy. Starting in those younger years, Garland’s producers forced her into prescriptions to control weight, sleep, and eating habits, leading to a drug and alcohol abuse that would eventually lead to her death by overdose in June of 1969. While Garland was idolized by many, her life greatly suffered, and this is the conflict that strikingly unfolds in Porchlight’s production.
Over the Rainbow
Written by Peter Quilter and directed by Porchlight Artistic Director Michael Weber,End of the Rainbow opens on Musical Director/Conductor Jon Steinhagen (who also portrays the role of Anthony), playing an overture of Garland’s famous songs.
As he plays, scenes from Garland’s later concerts fill the side walls, as well as the stories of how each of them failed when her substance abuse took over.The series of clips and images beautifully sets us up for the events that follow.
Once the overture ends, Judy Garland (Angela Ingersoll) enters the scene with her fiancé and manager Mickey Deans (Kyle Hatley). She is about to tackle a six-week run of solo concerts in London and over the courseof the play, we watch Garland confront her substance addiction, and question whether or not she has the strength to fight on or give in. The script is successful in its pure truth – this is Garland’s life, and we were constantly reminded of that fact through projections of videos and photos from her past.
Weber’s clever choice to include these in the designs acted as a reminder of the history that made the story all the more heartbreaking.
Porchlight Theatre Signature Set Design
Porchlight’s production is aesthetically gorgeous – starting with the stage design. Set Designer Christopher Rhoton utilized bright colors in his creation of Garland’s hotel room, complete with a window in the back that overlooked London. The stage created a lovely image that met audience members as soon as they entered the theater, and colors were only enhanced by the work of Costume Designer Bill Morey. Judy Garland is a loud and exciting character, which Morey highlighted through each of her beautiful and vibrant costumes she would wear for her concerts.
The ensemble of four actors as a whole was fantastic, and the chemistry between the main three was spot-on. Hatley portrayed Mickey Deans with a perfect balance between the love he had for Garland, and the pressure to be a perfect manager and get her on the stage. Hatley infused the role with a sense of urgency and passion that made it exciting to watch unfold. In contrast, Steinhagen’s Anthony was calm and loving in a beautiful way.
He clearly cared for Garland, and the moments between him and Ingersoll, when Anthony tried to protect Garland from the dangers of her addiction, were some of my favorites in the production.
The true shout-out of course goes to Angela Ingersoll, who provided a simply incredible performance as Judy Garland. Her voice was breathtaking, her vibrato ringing throughout the theater. She was over-the-top and passionate when needed, but Weber clearly helped her through the simple moments as well, creating a lovely balance that made the character fascinating. I found myself rooting for Garland from the very top of the show, and I felt for her at every rough turn.
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that End of the Rainbow was a story that should be shared. Judy Garland’s story is one filled with pressure from those in charge of her success. Even in the play, Mickey Deans – the fiancé who loved her, pushed her to a point of falling to her addiction. These pressures continue, and the play serves as a window into what could come of these dangers.
Through December 9, 2016
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.
With additional performances:
Thursday, Nov. 17 at 1:30 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 25 at 4 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 1:30 p.m.
*There is no Thursday 7:30 p.m. performance November 10 and 24.
1225 W. Belmont Avenue
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
This review was excerpted by Theatre in Chicago