In a heart-tugging blur of torch songs, addictive behaviors, glamour and cutting wit, “End of the Rainbow”---a portrayal of the final years of the legendary songbird Judy Garland---opened at the Laguna Playhouse in a tour de force performance by Angela Ingersoll.
“Buckle your seat belts; you’re in for quite a ride!” said playhouse director Ann E. Wareham as she welcomed the sold-out crowd to the performance directed by Michael Matthews that was billed “part concert, part drama---all Judy Garland.” (Continuing through Sept. 2).
Audience members collectively gasped as Ingersoll made her initial appearance, looking the spitting image of her character, as the haunting piano strains of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” played in the background. Swaddled in black mink, lips painted hot-red and sporting Garland’s signature sassy, short hairstyle, the petite Ingersoll swept onstage in a flurry of chatter and frenetic mannerisms, then broke into the chestnut, “Just in Time,” sounding more like Judy Garland than Judy Garland.
It wasn’t long before her erratic behaviors began to suggest Garland’s dark side, the addict who didn’t worry about the effects of her alcohol use and pill-popping on her adoring fans while her handwringing fiance, Mickey Deans, and piano accompanist did (“Pills are adult candy!” she piped. Under the spotlight, she could get away with anything, she told them. “To my fans, I’m a goddess! Just give me the pills! I can’t do a show without them!”) Of alcohol, she quipped: “When I drink water, I feel like I’m missing something!”
In this production, set in London, every song is a showstopper. From throaty, artful renditions of “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” “You Made Me Love You,” “The Trolley Song,” “The Man that Got Away,” and “When You’re Smilin,’” to a tearful and longingly rendered “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Ingersoll gave the crowd a Judy Garland who was achingly authentic.
Show composer Peter Quilter even had Garland, who died of an overdose at age 47, making pithy commentary on aging: “My chin and my tits are on a race to my knees!”
It was that kind of night.