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 weâ€™ve seen the petulance and haughty grandeur that were such an integral part of her persona. And weâ€™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 donâ€™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 Garlandâ€™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 Garlandâ€™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 didnâ€™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 donâ€™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 Mickeyâ€™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, heâ€™s willing to be a supplier.
Chicago actress Resnik â€“ the first American-born actress to play this role â€“ 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 Garlandâ€™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 Garlandâ€™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 Garlandâ€™s life.
The play is what weâ€™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 Garlandâ€™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.Â 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 May 4, 2017
There are many people in Milwaukee who lead very public lives. One of them, surely, is David Stearns, the general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. We sat down with him to see what makes him tick.
Published May 2, 2017
With a May 8 deadline looming, the war of words over a proposed strip club Downtown is escalating. A coalition of powerful business interests remain opposed, with the mayor and members of the Common Council on the other side, using Minneapolis as an example.
Published April 30, 2017
Let us all agree about what Junie B. Jones is not. She is not a crook. She is not a nutball. She is not in love with Handsome Warren. What she is, though, is the center of a wonderfully funny story, "Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook."
Published April 29, 2017
Theater can make you feel a lot of things, most of them wondrous, but on rare occasion it can make me feel like a dummy. And that's what I felt like after seeing "Jane Eyre," the final show of the season at The Rep, which opened Friday night.
Published April 27, 2017
It's impossible to stop thinking about the production of "Carnival" currently being staged at In Tandem Theatre, which I reviewed on opening night last week and is a fascinating example of what can happen when you stretch yourself and dream big dreams.
Published April 25, 2017
Start with a girl, beautiful and rich. Then add in her uncle and guardian who wants to marry her so he can get the money and toss in a high-born stranger who also wants the girl's hand in marriage. What you have is Florentine's "Barber of Seville."
Published April 22, 2017
For 15 years, under the guidance of art therapist Lori Vance, ExYoMKE has gone one-on-one with some of the most disaffected children in Milwaukee, children of all races and genders, and tried to help them see the world through the eyes of an artist.
Published April 22, 2017
One of the most wonderful evenings at a theater is when the show starts on a high note and just keeps getting better and better until you get to an ending where your heart is lying on the floor and your eyes are clouded with tears. That's "Carnival."
Published April 21, 2017
"The Fantasticks" is a simple little musical, the longest running in history, about a boy and a girl and being in love. The problem in the Off the Wall Theatre production is that the boy can't hold up his end of the deal, and the whole production suffers.
Published April 20, 2017
When I'm moved, I write, and fortunately, with OnMilwaukee, I have a place for that writing. The series of Uber tales from the road have run intermittently, but this story, more than anything else, proved that words and social media have the power to spark action, to make a real difference.