Mr. Wow Blog
Mr. Wow Visits the End of The Rainbow
7:35 pm | May 1, 2012

Author: Mr. Wow | Category: Point of View | Comments: 36

 

MR. WOW Sees Judy Again–Dead as Ever, Alas. 

 

As some of you know, Mr. Wow did not become an admirer of Judy Garland until he saw her laid out, dead as a doornail, at Frank Campbell’s Funeral Home in 1969.  To better understand this—for those new to this site—please click on TO COME.  Read it now, or come back to it later.

 

But on to more recent times. Turner Classic Movies ran two Garland faves—“Easter Parade” and “Summer Stock.”  In the former Judy is skinny and strung out.  In the latter she is plump and strung out.  In both she imbues her cardboard characters with humanity, realism and neurotic tension.

     In “Easter Parade” her musical high point arrives when she serenades Fred Astaire with “It Only Happens When I Dance With You.”   In “Summer Stock” she soars plaintively on “Friendly Star,” mourning the (temporary) halt to her romance with super-hot Gene Kelly.   (I know—we all love the raucous “Get Happy” from that movie.  But for me, Miss G. was at her best turning the volume down, just a bit. Intimate ballads are the peak of her artistry.)

    If you question the adoration Garland inspired, look at these two numbers. Hell, just look at her MGM movies, period. She brought something unique to American filmgoers. And later, to live, rapturous, audiences.  As an actress who sang, or as a singer who acted—you choose!–she was nonpareil.  It was total involvement.  Visceral performing.  She was The Method before The Method, wrapped up in silly musical comedies.  Judy was the cheerful girl next door who might cut her wrists at any moment, because of the callous boy next door.

 

With those movies—and so many others—in mind, I was wary, approaching Broadway’s “End of the Rainbow.” This deals with Judy’s decline, indeed with everything that immediately preceded her death.

     But…I recovered. (As Miss G. famously asides in “A Star Is Born.”)  And I saw “End of the Rainbow.” 

 

And this is what I thought.

 

“IF I am such a legend, why am I so alone?”

    That was a familiar refrain from movie queen and live concert phenom, Judy Garland. She always liked to imply she was alone, friendless, powerless. It was a good story. She came to believe it.

      The reality of the situation was that Judy was never alone.  She was almost always surrounded by people—adoring friends…brilliant co-workers…bewildered but besotted children…an ever-present on-tap entourage. She was one of the most famous, worshipped and honored entertainers of the 20th century. She had it all.

     If, toward the end of her life the crowd around her thinned, it was she herself who had done the winnowing.  Garland was never quite the victim of her own self-generated legend.  (“Sympathy is my business” she told her daughter Liza Minnelli. And those who were not sympathetic were out. As Liza herself would learn.)

    It is the dark, white hot/ice cold finale of Judy Garland’s life that is captured in the new Broadway show “End of the Rainbow.”  This is Judy in extremis, circa London, 1969. Her voice shattered (again) her career on the precipice (again) involved with an inappropriate man (again), fighting with agents and musicians and nightclub owners (again)

     Those who are old enough to remember, still recall the tremulous wraith who impersonated Judy by this point in her life.  There she was, encased in her glittering pantsuits, still trying to give her all onstage, sometimes achieving a miracle, more often openly asking (expecting) her audiences to forgive their long-lost Dorothy Gale. 

      Hmmmm…forget Dorothy. She had traveled far even from the paper thin, nervous woman—with a still glorious voice– of her 1963 TV series.

   It was not a nice time, those months in London, and perhaps an odd, even unpalatable subject upon which to base a two-hour and ten minute play-with-music. But that is what writer Peter Quilter and director Terry Johnson have done.

    And if it is not appetizing for those with no appetite for a grisly wallow, it is fascinating theater nonetheless.

     Garland is portrayed by Tracie Bennett.  This performance begins on such a high note of near-hysteria and nerves—Garland arrives in England to appear at a supper club—that one feels there’s no-place to go but down.  However to the contrary, Bennett raises the bar with every scene.  She plays the latter-day Judy with all the familiar KayThomson inspired stances, the quirky facial expressions, the vocal oddities—coming down with particular emphasis on certain words.  If she sometimes sounds more like Katharine Hepburn than Garland, one should remember that Garland herself adopted a rather Britishy, posh manner of speaking—as many of the MGM ladies eventually did.   It’s an incredible performance, energy-wise alone. (Isabel Keating, well remembered for her Judy-turn in “The Boy From Oz” was more spot-on, but Isabel didn’t have to carry that show.)

      Bennett does her best to give some meaning to Garland’s lurching, collapsing, neediness, bitchery, vulnerability.

     But she can only work with her material, which offers precious little in explanation at how and why this rare creature, referred to during her lifetime, and without argument, as “The World’s Greatest Entertainer” ends up crawling around the floor of the Ritz Hotel in utter disarray, a hopeless addict. Brief mentions of Judy’s abuse at the hands of her mother and MGM don’t suffice.  Especially when one knows that Garland never met a lily that didn’t require elaborate gilding. (Like her astrological sister, and personal friend, Marilyn Monroe, the truth about Judy is impossible to decipher or deconstruct. The ladies ladled out too much bullshit.)

     But along with the grimy scenes of Garland at the dregs, there’s some wicked humor as well. Miss G was quick to find the ridiculous in her situation. In Judy’s heyday, time and again, people would recall “laughter, always around her there was laughter.”

     Bennett also sings a number of Judy’s famous songs, delivered in the jittery Ritalin-infused energy of Garland’s last years. (Although I don’t think Judy ever became quite so tangled up in her microphone cord as Bennett plays it!)

    Bennett is given nice support by Tom Pelphrey as her sleazy last husband, Mickey Deans, and Michael Cumpsty who portrays one of Garland’s musicians. Cumstry really functions as an amalgam of various people in Garland’s life, a Greek chorus of praise and condemnation, including certain aspects of her audience—the much-abused-and-mocked “gay clique” who never deserted her. 

    This is a niche play for a niche audience about a niche period in Judy Garland’s life.  (To be perfectly honest, the audience with whom I saw it was comprised mostly of geezers and gays. Okay—I’m in there!)

     It is undeniably exploitive, but let’s not pretend exploitation and curiosity about a great star’s fall is something new. Or something we are not curious about. Oh, so we turn up our nose after we’ve rummaged through the troth?  How noble. How phony.  Believe me, soon enough we will have “The Final Days of Whitney Houston” delivered to us in some manner.

      Is it necessary or instructive to see Garland’s penultimate months ridiculously compressed, inevitably fictionalized and held up for display?  No.  Does it provide a surge of remorse and passion for that great talent? Yes it does. Does it make you want to rent one of her old films or listen to the Carnegie Hall album?  Yes it does!! 

      Perhaps somebody young will happen upon this show and wonder—“what the hell was that?  Who was this person? Should I go to YouTube and investigate?”  Yes, young person—go.  You’ll be amazed. 

    “The End of the Rainbow” spares us Judy’s death in the London bathroom of her rented house—an “incautious overdose” the coroner would state.  She literally took one pill too many.  As opposed to MM’s 25-plus.

     Tracie Bennett concludes the evening singing Mort Lindsay’s tour de force arrangement of “By Myself,” best remembered from Garland’s final movie, “I Could Go On Singing.”   It’s not a very good movie—a soapy, semi roman a clef. But it conveys a great deal of what Garland had become, and what she was till the end—a volcanic, indomitable survivor—feeding off her legend, feeding off her loved ones, feeding off strangers, feeding off her audience. Had she lived, she might have erupted brilliantly again.  It would have been hell for her, and for those in the lava path, but it would have been glorious, too. 

   “End of the Rainbow” is by no means all of what Judy was, even at the end.  But I think those who’ll go to see it, already know that.  Judy Garland’s fans—straight and gay– didn’t “love” her unhappiness. That is a cruel myth. They accepted her played-to-the-footlights trauma as part of the brilliant package.  When you have as much talent as Garland, and give so much of it, you have to take even more—from husbands, lovers, children, fans– just to survive another day.

     Garland packed a thousand years into her 47—a miraculous testament to her strength and commitment.

    If she ruined herself, doesn’t that seem appropriate?   You can’t make or break a talent like Garland.  The tornado must finally wind down, all by itself. Sadly, when it’s over, you never end up in Oz.

 

Oh, but Miss Garland—it only happened when I danced with you.

 

 

Comments:
  • Deirdre

    Oh Mr. WoW, If I could write like you, this is exactly what I would write about Judy. I have loved her since I was very little.  When my parents had friends to dinner, they always had me sing for them starting at about age 5; I loved it. Never had stage fright and never sang the same song, took requests (so shy). They all told my parents I was the next Judy Garland and I still remember my Mom especially saying “God forbid”. I saw her live a couple of times years later and loved her. I finally understood their fear when she died in London at 47.  Of course, it didn’t stop me from singing at the drop of a hat. I watch her movies and listen to her music often and wish she, like Marilyn could have found a way to be free of the pills, pain, fear and uncertainty that seemed to be such a big part of their lives.

    8:37 pm | May 1, 2012
    • Mr. Wow
      Mr. Wow

      Oh, Deirdre…your parents were correct!  It’s not a business for children.  Or adults.  Maybe the animation/hologram thing is the best bet.

      Judy was a genius.  And a complete mess.  And no matter what she said, she was responsible, after a certain point.   However, if she–or MM, or Janis or Billie, or whomever–hadn’t been a mess, they wouldn’t have had that crazy magic.  So maybe they are in their own heaven, still crazy after all these years, but free from pain.  I hope.

      8:47 pm | May 1, 2012
      • BabySnooks

        I don’t think anyone who is truly addicted is necessarily responsible for the addiction continuing. There is more and more research into the role of dopamine and the addictive role of dopamine in “locking” us into the “feel good” so to speak.  And keep in mind Judy didn’t decide to start taking all the pills. The studios made that decision for her.  And back then people didn’t really realize the dangerous addiction of drugs and alcohol. Many never would have had it not been for Betty Ford. And then there was the “schadenfreude” and no one knew it better than Judy Garland which may explain why she said what she said about sympathy being her business. And even while it was a form of ”enabling”it worked for her. Which added perhaps the worst of her addictions. Seemed like people really loved her best after they pushed her off the pedestal and she managed somehow to climb back up. Although it became more difficult as the years went by. 

        The gods and goddesses are all doomed in the end for some reason. The tragedy perhaps is what puts them back on the pedestal in the end and keeps them there.

        9:54 pm | May 1, 2012
  • Mr. Wow
    Mr. Wow

    Dear Baby…

    Some biography of JG–I forget which one–had this scene. Garland is about to go on stage, somebody whispers to the new guy, trying to get her together: “Say something to make her insecure.”

    “What?!” 

    “Do it.  She’ll perform better. She needs that.”

    Judy’s greatest problem was money.  She literally had to sing for her supper.  In the concert years, after MGM, it was an endless treadmill with no time to rest or consider legitimate cures–such as they were at the time. Still, she knew what she was doing, to herself and to those who loved her. She found comfort in what she  claimed was her victimization.   She certainly never took responsibility for her own problems.

    Then again–that’s a hard thing to do. Even if you’re not Judy Garland.  I hate to do it.  I’d rather be worshiped at Carnegie Hall and tell everybody who wants me to act like an adult to fuck off–I’ll sing ‘em all and I’ll stay all night!

     

    10:34 pm | May 1, 2012
    • BabySnooks

      I think we’ve all become a little harsh with the problem of addiction. Particularly with regard to the ”schadenfreude.” No one volunteers to be a victim.  Let’s just agree to agree that she got lost early on. And for whatever reason never found her way back. They all got lost. But somehow it lent something to the real legacy which was the “presence” which our modern age allows us to preserve for generations to follow. All of whom at one point or another will listen to Judy Garland and begin to be haunted by the voice.  The voice affected by the “melodrama” of life. Same thing with Frank Sinatra. He was at his best during those years he pined away for Ava Gardner.  The gods and goddesses know the pain we know. And it lends to their “presence.” Long after they’re gone.

      11:39 pm | May 1, 2012
  • Mr. Wow, interesting that you and Liz Smith both wrote about “End of the Rainbow” today!  Did you go see it together?

    11:04 pm | May 1, 2012
    • BabySnooks

      I couldn’t quite figure out if Liz actually liked it or not. Seems like part of her did and part of her didn’t. There seems to be a bit of “schadenfreude” at work still. For me, well, how can anyone really capture Judy Garland? The same with so many others. Like Elizabeth Taylor once said the only person who could possibly play her was her. The same is true of Judy Garland. And Frank Sinatra. And many others. And perhaps it becomes a matter of our not really wanting to see anyone knock them off the pedestal again. 

      11:45 pm | May 1, 2012
      • Mr. Wow
        Mr. Wow

        Dear Baby…well, works such as “End of the Rainbow” don’t push to keep stars on their pedestals.  But it’s nothing we didn’t already know.  About Judy, about any of them. I’m never quite sure of the point.  Preaching to the jaded choir.   

        11:57 pm | May 1, 2012
    • Mr. Wow
      Mr. Wow

      Dear Lila…no.  But I did wave hello across the aisle.

      11:59 pm | May 1, 2012
  • Mr. Wow
    Mr. Wow

    Well, Tracie Bennett was nominated for a Tony award.  I guess she deserved it.  Matters of good taste aside–whatever the hell good taste is–she puts on a pyrotechnic display.

    11:58 am | May 2, 2012
  • Scott

    Mr. Wow,

    I recently discovered your blog.  WOW!!  What a terrific review of End of the Rainbow.  I’m flying to NYC in July, on my 50th birthday to see it (if it doesn’t close before then).

    I am a wanna be writer… your blog inspires.

    Scott

    4:46 am | May 3, 2012
  • Mr. Wow
    Mr. Wow

    Dear Scott…First of all, happy upcoming 50th!  Ah, to be 50 again.  Now with Ms. Bennett’s Tony nod, the show might make it through the summer. 

    If I inspire you to write, I have but one piece of advice–write better than Mr. Wow.  I am just a hack.  But I have fun. 

    10:00 am | May 3, 2012
  • LandofLove
    LandofLove

    Mr. wOw, what I really like about your review is that it’s fair and it provides excellent background information that explains your perspective. I don’t know much about Ms. Garland’s later years, so your comments helped me understand why you felt the way you did about the performance.

    I think you’d make an excellent reviewer of stage, screen, and TV productions!

    11:46 am | May 3, 2012
    • Mr. Wow
      Mr. Wow

      Dear Land…I had a big reply ready.What a bad writer I am…how I could never reasonably critique anything–blah, blah. And then I thought—”Can’t you just accept a compliment, and not kill youself over it?”

      So…thank you. Love, Mr.W

      2:10 pm | May 3, 2012
  • Daniel Sugar

     I’ve got “Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart” on iTunes. What a voice.

    12:19 pm | May 3, 2012
    • Mr. Wow
      Mr. Wow

      Dear Dr. Sugar…which version? Her soulful/belting as a teenager on radio, or her later styling? I have both on my IPod.

      2:13 pm | May 3, 2012
  • Rho

    Can’t wait to see the show.  Loved Judy.

    2:30 pm | May 3, 2012
  • BabySnooks

    Well Miz Liz is “MIA” over on wowOwow – her column yesterday had this clip of Marilyn Monroe and Dean Martin from the film she never finished. I can’t remember the name. Age takes its toll on the mind as well as the body. In any case, it’s quite fascinating, its in the column on New York Social Diary, to watch. She still looks like Monroe the sex bomb. But, well, the whispy-voiced sex siren is gone. Monroe the actress finally. Quite sad to watch it and realize it. Definitely something to see if you’ve never seen it. Which I hadn’t.

    6:50 pm | May 3, 2012
    • Mr. Wow
      Mr. Wow

      Dear Baby…”Something’s Got to Give” and she never looked better. More natural voice, too.

      12:11 am | May 4, 2012
  • BabySnooks

    As for Judy her voice was just so unique – every once in awhile you can hear it comingt through Liza. It’s an eery feeling listening to it.  As if you’re listening to both of them.

    6:55 pm | May 3, 2012
  • Daniel Sugar

    Gee, I’m not certain. (But she sounds very young (and there’s beaucoup belting) so I’m guessing it’s the early version.) 

    7:22 pm | May 3, 2012
    • Mr. Wow
      Mr. Wow

      Dear Dr. Sugar…sounds like the teen version, which is AMAZING, considering her age, she was only about 14.

      12:13 am | May 4, 2012
  • BabySnooks

    In case you missed it, Miz Liz gave you a “plug” the other day…

     

    http://www.newyorksocialdiary.com/node/1908013

    3:11 pm | May 4, 2012
  • Mr. Wow
    Mr. Wow

    Dear Baby…I didn’t miss it.

    8:44 pm | May 4, 2012
    • BabySnooks

      Well now you’re absolutely famous. Anonymously! 

      11:41 pm | May 4, 2012
      • Mr. Wow
        Mr. Wow

        Oh, Baby…I’d like to say “someday you’ll know all” because I know you’d really get it.

        But….yeah,  Famous anonymous.  We make our our beds. 

        12:27 am | May 5, 2012
  • BabySnooks

    And speaking of which I was in an odd mood one afternoon and “googled” Count Snarkula. He has a Facebook page. As Count Snarkula! So how’s the column on Life in the Unemployment Line coming? 

    11:44 pm | May 4, 2012
    • Snooks, he’s on Twitter too.

      9:32 pm | May 5, 2012
      • BabySnooks

        The other “masked man…”

        1:46 am | May 6, 2012
      • LandofLove
        LandofLove

        I’d love to see Count Snarkula posting here–also, Briana Baran!

        9:15 am | May 6, 2012
  • Rho

    Hope this goes thru, computer is on the fritz.

    2:31 pm | May 5, 2012
  • Rho

    It went thru, major computer problems.

     

    6:28 pm | May 5, 2012
  • Rho

    Good morning, who is on Twitter?

     

    9:51 am | May 6, 2012
  • Rho

    Thanks for the link, Baby.

     

    3:50 pm | May 6, 2012
  • arcadiayarddog
    Jean

    Mr. Wow, I bought a DVD of Miss Garland’s t.v. show performances for my niece (who sings and entertains ocassionally). “Now this, this, is an entertainer,” as I sat her down and hit “Play.” I wanted to share Miss Garland with the next generation. Niece had never seen a performance like it and probably never will again. We watched mezmerized as Miss Garland looked deep into our eyes and pulled us in even after all these years on such a crude medium. Such a simple performance yet so bewitching. I wish I’d seen her live (p.s. I’m a certified head-bangin mosh pitter but Judy Garland is in a class of her own.)

    11:57 am | May 14, 2012
    • Mr. Wow
      Mr. Wow

      Dear Jean..They didn’t call her “The World’s Greatest Entertainer” for nothing!

      5:31 pm | May 14, 2012
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