There is one brief moment when we stop wondering, and we see Judy Garland in all she ever was during "End of the Rainbow," which opened Friday night at the Milwaukee Rep.
We have already seen the drug-addled Garland, and we’ve seen the petulance and haughty grandeur that were such an integral part of her persona. And we’ve heard her sing.
During a London cabaret performance, she sings "The Trolley Song." And when actress Hollis Resnik gets to a "clang, clang, clang went the trolley" line, she turns to the side and gives it a little bit of choo-choo with her arms, legs and heart, looking like a train.
The moment is exquisite and reflects the soaring majesty that made Garland what some people call the greatest American entertainer, ever.
I don’t know about that, but whoever is ahead of Garland in the lore of show business can certainly smell her hot on their heels for first place.
The play, by Peter Quilter, is a no-holds-barred slice of the last major gig of Garland’s career, a concert series at the Talk of the Town cabaret in London. Just months after that series, she died of a drug overdose.
The last two men in Garland’s life, which was filled with men, were Mickey Deans, the much younger man who was to become her fifth husband, and Anthony, her pianist.
The show, under the tender direction of Mark Clements, artistic director at the Rep, gives us the full-on Judy Garland, and my reactions were all over the map, just like her life.
I was appalled and fascinated by her deep and abiding affection and addiction for artificial stimulant. Uppers, downers and alcohol all fueled her life. I was thrilled by her onstage magic.
Garland never met a tabloid she didn’t love, and the turbulence of her life and career made for a great reading treat for the millions who adored her.
But while her public persona spun out of control like the bouncing balls in a lottery drawing, her private life was full of both confidence and fear.
"When was it ever about what I want," she cried to Mickey. "I don’t need help; I need pills."
Mickey spends all his time trying to keep Garland straight, while Anthony, gay and fostering a deep loving affection for Garland, is suspicious of Mickey’s motives and counsels Judy not to marry him.
In the end, Mickey realizes that the most important thing in his life is having Judy on stage, and if it takes pills to get and keep her there, he’s willing to be a supplier.
Chicago actress Resnik – the first American-born actress to play this role – delivers a performance that is lushly drawn and electrifying.
She is funny when she needs to be funny and pathetic when she needs to be pathetic. She has a marvelous voice, and her renditions of Garland’s songs are an absolute wonder.
This role demands so much more than just a singer and an actor. It demands a commitment that matched Garland, and Resnik has it.
She is more than skillfully aided by Nicholas Harazin, a familiar figure to Milwaukee audiences who plays Mickey and Thomas J. Cox who brings Anthony to life.
Harazan gives Mickey a diligent and frustrated mien, faced with a woman who he either loves or just wants to manage. That question is never answered, but he is a startling young talent.
Cox creates the most humane of all the men in Garland’s life and wears his love on his sleeve. He gives Anthony a fierce backbone cloaked in a protective desire that is most likely unique in Garland’s life.
The play is what we’ve come to expect from the Rep under Clements' guidance. The set design by Dan Conway is spectacular, switching over and over from a hotel suite to the cabaret.
Perhaps the only unanswered question is in this play is whether Garland’s excess was a character flaw or simply a way to keep doing what she did best. Perhaps nobody knows the answer to that.
Regardless, at the end of the play, one of the rarest of events happened. I cried during a curtain call.
The show ended, of course, with a touching variation of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The lights went out, and when Resnik came to the stage for a bow, the strains of the song continued through the theater and deep into my heart. Crying at a curtain call. Absolutely amazing.
End of the Rainbow continues through Feb. 9. Information is available at milwaukeerep.com.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published Aug. 21, 2014
There are a lot of emotions that roar through someone, including me, when you hear the word "autism." And there is nothing like living with someone with autism, even for a brief time, to understand both the difficulties and opportunities of the disorder.
Published Aug. 19, 2014
With the recent announcement that the team is going to retire Brett Favre's number and put him into the team Hall of Fame, attention has been turned toward greatness: Who was the greatest Packer of them all? Not one of the greatest, but THE greatest. We get to the bottom of it here.
Published Aug. 15, 2014
Gretchen Mahkorn is 21. She's an actor. She has a BFA in acting from a respected program. She's smart. She's determined. She networks. She has a resume. She has history onstage from a very young age. And her next acting job is in a play produced by the theater company she founded when she was just 16 years old, The World's Stage Theatre Company.
Published Aug. 14, 2014
One of the easiest things to do is to find something wrong and then run out and criticize a local government about it. So I think it's only fair to occasionally give a nod to stuff that people do for citizens that makes life a lot easier.
Published Aug. 12, 2014
Welcome to Meat on the Street, the first place dedicated to Filipino food in the city and a place where it won't cost you an arm and a leg to try this delightful stuff. And you never have trouble getting a table because the service is one of a legion of food trucks cruising the city this summer.
Published Aug. 12, 2014
A federal court ruling last week shook to the core the belief that amateurism is the key spoke in college athletics. This is, of course, in response to the decades of colleges and universities making billions of dollars on the backs of their athletes. Think of wealthy landowners and their serfs. The serfs have risen up and have found an agreeable court waiting for their arguments.
Published Aug. 11, 2014
In a stunning and dashing production of the classic Anton Chekhov play, the cast and crew at American Players Theatre has captured every nuance - humor-filled and grief-laden - of this marvelous play about love unrequited, and unrequited, and unrequited and ... well, you get the point.
Published Aug. 9, 2014
"Master Class" is truly a one woman play, even though there are other characters scattered about. They are all mere foils for a part that demands towering strength and passion, which Angela Iannone delivers in spades. But it is also a very special job by director Jill Anna Ponasik.
Published Aug. 8, 2014
In the adventures of Robin Hood, it is the capricious archer who is the center of all legends, and around him swirl the Merry Men (Little John and Will Scarlett) and the evil of Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham and Maid Marian, whom Robin loves. There is a way to look at this legendary story, however, through the eyes of a woman, and you can find a story with enough twists and turns to capture and hold your imagination.
Published Aug. 7, 2014
If there is one thing that marks the world of professional theater, in Milwaukee and just about everywhere else, it's the egalitarian nature of things. Nevertheless, there are stars created in the world of theater. Now we have two certifiable budding star directors - both women, both 27 years old and each with a future that seems unlimited.