Regional / Chicago Theater Review: END OF THE RAINBOW (Milwaukee Rep)

Post image for Regional / Chicago Theater Review: END OF THE RAINBOW (Milwaukee Rep)

by Matthew Reddin on January 11, 2014

in Theater-Chicago,Theater-Regional

A FOGGY PLAY IN LONDON TOWN

Should a play seemingly designed and targeted specifically for Judy Garland devotees have the right to be held to a different standard than a play for the public at large?

Thomas J. Cox and Hollis Resnik in Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Quadracci Powerhouse production of End of the Rainbow.

That’s the question you’ll need to ponder before attending Milwaukee Rep’s production of End of the Rainbow. If you are among the legion of Garland fans, fearlessly buy your tickets. This tribute to the troubled Hollywood legend, set during a series of concerts just prior to her untimely death at 49, offers exactly what it promises: an unvarnished, brutally honest portrait of Judy at her best and worst. But if all things Garland isn’t your bag, be warned: Most of the play’s luster lies in the characteristics and depiction of Garland; the script itself is not inherently great.

Hollis Resnik as Judy Garland in Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Quadracci Powerhouse production of End of the Rainbow

The play’s structure sheds some light on this discrepancy. End of the Rainbow is a tale of two genres: straight play and recreated concert. Garland (Hollis Resnik) is in a London hotel, where she struggles to keep it together with the help of her fifth husband-to-be Mickey Deeds (Nicholas Harazin) and her latest pianist Anthony (Thomas J. Cox). The play then alternates between the hotel and Garland performing at The Talk of the Town nightclub (the effortless back-and-forth segues are thanks Dan Conway’s slick, sliding set).

Hollis Resnik and Nicholas Harazin in Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Quadracci Powerhouse production of End of the Rainbow.

For the Garland aficionado, this is the best of both worlds. Garland-on-stage is precisely the glitter-filled public persona we imagine; even during Judy’s “bad nights,” Resnik doesn’t butcher the tunes any more than she has to. She rips into all the classic standards—“Just in Time,” “Get Happy,” “Come Rain or Come Shine”—with a punchy, practiced sound, and while most start hesitantly, they build to big, flourished finishes. The hotel scenes supply an appropriate, realistic counterweight, comedic when Judy bickers with Mickey over paying the bill, and darker when an unstable, venomous Garland begs her companions to let her have a drop of whiskey, a splash of champagne, a tablet of Ritalin, anything.

Hollis Resnik as Judy Garland in Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Quadracci Powerhouse production of End of the Rainbow.

Those hotel scenes require a moderate knowledge of Garland trivia to keep from getting lost. Writer Peter Quilter has taken for granted that you know as much about Judy Garland’s life as he does, and the opening scenes are resultantly low on helpful exposition, making much of the first act seem threadbare. Even if Garland and company really did whirl about the hotel issuing biting insults and snappy comebacks at each other, the characters don’t quite feel complete until much later in the show.

Thomas J. Cox (background) and Hollis Resnik in Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Quadracci Powerhouse production of End of the Rainbow.Judy fan or not, any audience member will appreciate the caliber of acting under Mark Clements’ assured direction. Clearly, the play focuses on Garland, who Resnik plays with a mercurial, twitchy disposition—the unmistakable marks of an addict seeking her fix, be it love, fame, booze or pills. That means the script often pushes Harazin and Cox’s characters to the side. But they fight back. Harazin may be dressed up like an extra-foppish Beatle (authentic costumes by Holly Payne), but he brings a three-dimensionality and warmth to Mickey that challenges Anthony’s accusations that he is just a drug-pusher hoping to use Garland as his meal ticket. And while Cox’s character is merely a composite blend of Garland’s confidants and the gay men who formed such a fervent bloc of her fan base, he never feels less real than the others, a voice of reason who shares one particularly poignant moment with Resnik at the top of the second act.

Nicholas Harazin and Hollis Resnik in Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Quadracci Powerhouse production of End of the Rainbow.In the script’s wisest move, Quilter leaves us with no easy answer to whether Judy Garland could have escaped her tragic fate, and  you will be dazzled by Resnick’s solemn, haunting “Over the Rainbow,” which is aided by Jesse Klug’s prismatic lightwork that flutters across the stage. If the entire show could have had the pure, simple focus of this closing moment, you wouldn’t need to question if you’re enough of a Garland disciple to enjoy the end of her rainbow.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

photos by Michael Brosilow

End of the Rainbow
Milwaukee Rep
Quadracci Powerhouse
Patty & Jay Baker Theater Complex, 108 East Wells St. in Milwaukee
scheduled to end on February 9, 2014
for tickets, call (414) 224-9490 or visit www.MilwaukeeRep.com

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

 

Comments on this entry are closed.