June 05, 2019

Vivid and brave portrayal of tragic diva’s fall

End of the Rainbow
by Peter Quilter
State Theatre Company South Australia
in association with the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
Royalty Theatre, Angas Street.
June 4. Tickets: $32- $67. Bookings 131 246 or online
Duration 2 hours (including interval)
Until June 16.

In about two weeks, June 22 will mark 50 years since the death of Judy Garland in Belgravia, London, aged 47. Her legend (and its miseries) epitomises Golden Hollywood stardom. With a career beginning at the age of two, at 17 cast as the fabled Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (among a string of MGM hits), then later fame in television and on the concert stage, Judy Garland’s star has only magnified over time.

But so has our awareness of the venality and cruelty of producers, film studios and the succession of husbands and hucksters who exploited her to her last barbiturated breath.

Peter Quilter’s End of the Rainbow, first performed in Sydney in 2005, charts the final months of Garland’s life, focusing on her disastrous five week season, performing at London’s Talk of the Town – organised by Mickey Deans, her fifth and last husband.

In State Theatre’s production, director Elena Carapetis has the task of managing the often conflicting elements of Quilter’s sometimes clunky text. End of the Rainbow is a tribute, showcasing Garland’s undeniable musical genius, but it is also an abject melodrama which risks tilting tragedy into cliché.

Ailsa Paterson has spruced up the Royalty Theatre proscenium with a design consisting of four receding deco-style picture frames (smartly lit by Mark Pennington) taking us from Judy’s public stage, to the chesterfield interior of a London hotel, and finally the chintzy curtain revealing the excellent five-piece stage band, ably led by Musical Director, Carol Young.

As the brash American, Mickey Deans, in 60’s suedes and sideburns, Nic English, is convincing, both as the confident young paramour seeking to rescue the star from her addictions and salvage her career, and yet another in a line of commercial vampires.

Stephen Sheehan’s poignantly restrained Anthony Chapman, her devoted (and long-suffering) English accompanist, speaks for many closeted gay men of the time when he says to Judy that she saved his life. Eddie Morrison provides several cameos, including a bewildered radio interviewer, and also plays bass in the band.

But it is Helen Dallimore who brings gold to the End of the Rainbow, and with the voice which launched Glinda in the West End Wicked, she captures Garland’s distinctive speech patterns and breathes new life into Judy standards like The Man Who Got Away and Come Rain or Come Shine. Sometimes Quilter’s dialogue is overwrought and it plays shrill, but Dallimore’s portrait of Garland is vivid and brave, and when she sings, trouble melts like lemon drops.

“Vivid and brave portrayal of tragic diva’s fall” The Australian, June 6, 2019, p.15.

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