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 Sept. 16, 2014
This has been a difficult week for the National Football League, the most popular sport in the country, by far. And the affairs of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Roger Goodell have raised a series of questions and which may be difficult to answer, but which deserve our best try at answers.
Published Sept. 15, 2014
Deborah Staples is an actor and an associate artist at the Milwaukee Rep. She is at the absolute top of her game and delivers memorable performances wherever she appears. It would seem that with her career and her family, there would be no room left. However, she has begun to scale a new mountain in her life as she steps behind the footlights to direct her first play.
Published Sept. 14, 2014
Sometimes stepping off the beaten path, or outside of the mainstream, can be fraught with peril but on occasion it can turn into a wonderful surprise and you pat yourself on the back for taking the big step. Such was my reaction after stepping into the deliciously tiny space of Theatre Unchained in order to see the production of "The Addams Family Musical."
Published Sept. 13, 2014
We may not have movie stars like California, oranges like Florida or corn like Iowa, but Wisconsin has a long list of excellent stuff we've given to the rest of the world. Here are the top 13 things that carry the "Made in Wisconsin" tag.
Published Sept. 12, 2014
The little Alchemist Theatre space is one of the real jewels in this city, and it comes alive in an amazing fashion with "Destiny, Deviltry & Dentistry," a hilarious collection of sketches running through Sept. 20.
Published Sept. 11, 2014
Political correctness has intruded on one of the most precious pillars of our government, a pillar that was embraced at the very beginning of this country.
Published Sept. 9, 2014
The Milwaukee Brewers can still run and hit and pitch and throw and catch as well as they ever could, but they aren't doing any of those things even decently now. And I think it's the fault of the manager.
Published Sept. 9, 2014
From that time on I have always thought those two things, intelligence and courage, were critical elements in any football player. And that's why I am so overly disappointed in the way the Packers opened their season last week against the Seahawks in Seattle.
Published Sept. 8, 2014
The Rep's new production is a rollicking start to the theater season and one that is full of everything that's great about country music: a sly sense of humor, an equally sly sense of what makes a good story and a devoted faithfulness to an era gone by and mourned.
Published Sept. 4, 2014
As the Milwaukee Brewers' swoon continues it won't be long before the finger pointing starts in earnest. I wonder if anybody is going to bother to look at the new right fielder, Ryan Braun.