Monday, May 4, 2015

theatre review - END OF THE RAINBOW - Phoenix Theatre - May 1, 2015

Jeannie Shubitz and Jeff Kennedy
(Photo: Erin Evangeline Photography)

"Peter Quilter's recent Broadway play End of the Rainbow makes its Arizona debut in a fine production from Phoenix Theatre with a crackerjack performance by Jeannie Shubitz as Judy Garland. The play provides a private view into several weeks toward the end of Garland's life. It also has at its core one of those performances that will stick with you for days, if not years, in Shubitz's stellar portrayal of this legendary lady...While the play isn't perfect, and has a few too many contrived situations that seem to only be present to provide conflict, it is an intriguing expose into what life must have been like for a star of Garland's caliber, who suffered from years of addiction....While not much private footage of Garland from the mid 1960s is available, there are several concert videos and recordings that show Garland's frenetic behavior. As most people know, she was addicted to pills and alcohol, allegedly stemming from her teen years working in Hollywood. In End of the Rainbow, Garland is portrayed as more of a happy addict, someone who yearns to live a simple life but also has the burning desire to be the center of the party....Jeannie Shubitz perfectly portrays the idea of Garland being pulled in these two different directions and is spot-on in the several performance moments throughout the show. With a fairly accurate accent, her voice, speech patterns and mannerisms bring Judy to life on stage. She also gets the power, phrasing, and control in Garland's well documented singing voice perfectly right, which makes it eerily reminiscent of Garland's....all comes together in a stellar, virtual tour de force performance. Shubitz shows us both the rawness and beauty behind this well-known and well-loved woman and also expertly shows the frenzied, nervous, frantic, and frightened woman, the demons that haunt her, and the impact of what years of alcohol and pills have done to her...She perfectly captures the way that Garland owned the stage, the way she would fling the microphone cord around and almost get tripped by it, and how she connected with the audience—an audience who never knew if Judy was going to have an emotional melt down on stage or soar to new heights. Shubitz masterly shows us the trooper who knows the show must go on but also the scared girl who just wants to be left alone. She throws herself into every element of the role with fearless abandonment. I have no idea how she can manage to perform this role several times a week, as she deserves an endurance medal just for getting through a single performance....Director Karla Koskinen expertly stages the action, making the fireworks pop in the many fiery hotel scenes...  it is the quiet scenes that have even more of an impact. The scenes in which Garland softly pleads with Mickey and says "don't give up on me," or, suffering from the side effects of taking too many pills, she finds the determination to throw them away, have just as much resonance as the powerhouse performance numbers...While it isn't a perfect play, the way Quilter effectively weaves in two of Garland’s best known songs, "The Man That Got Away" and "Over the Rainbow," at key moments, helps with the shortcomings. Even though there may be some problems with the play itself, this is a production to see for Shubitz's amazing performance, one you won't forget for a long time after the curtain comes down." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

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