09
Mar
13

End of the Rainbow

End of the Rainbow

Queensland Theatre Company & Queensland Performing Arts Centre

QPAC Playhouse

2nd March – 24th March 2013

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

Christen O’Leary is the gold at the End of the Rainbow

Christen O’Leary effortlessly channels Judy Garland in the first 2013 co-production between Queensland Theatre Company and Queensland Performing Arts Centre. It’s a perfect vehicle for O’Leary, showcasing her superior vocal and acting ability, and her solid commitment to character, of which we saw glimpses in Bombshells last year.

 

Christen O'Leary & Hayden Spencer

Christen O’Leary & Hayden Spencer.

Peter Quilter’s play doesn’t give a lot of scope for the men in End of the Rainbow to achieve the same impressive heights, though Anthony Standish as Garland’s fifth and final husband (and her manager), Mickey, and Hayden Spencer as her pianist and best friend, Anthony, do all they can with what they’ve been given, and they are just enough, beautifully balanced in their opposing strategies and differing sensibilities, to help Judy rid herself of her demons.

 

The story is Garland’s tragedy and the star is O’Leary. She delivers the ruined performer’s weary words, “I gave them everything. There’s nothing left…” (and the pitch, pause and intonation in songs and speech is spot on, thanks in part to the work of Voice and Dialect Consultant, Melissa Agnew), with all the vulnerability of an actor who imagines she might feel the same way one day.

 

This is the most honest, and the most heartbreakingly damaged embodiment of Judy Garland we are likely to see outside of Bernadette Robinson’s outstanding performance in Songs for Nobodies. Given the tough gig of becoming Judy (we think we know her so well!) for a little over two hours, O’Leary ably switches between the competent, sassy, manipulative and mischievous imp, and the depressed, aggressive, desperate addict. The end of Act 1 comes crashing to a close, and the end of the show is desperately sad, until a curtain call lifts our spirits and reminds us that Judy is a legend, she is immortal, forever caught on celluloid, and sadly, like Elvis, Marilyn, MJ and so many more, along with Superman’s arch enemies, she appears trapped in The Phantom Zone, or the prism, and lost in space and time for our benefit. (Baz McAlister’s program notes are well worth the read at this point, at some stage during the twenty-minute interval anyway, if you didn’t get to them over pre-show drinks and tapas. It would be terrific to see these included on the production page of the website).

 

Anthony Standish & Christen O'Leary

Anthony Standish & Christen O’Leary.

But the time is 1968 and the space is, on one side of a clever revolve, Garland’s elegant suite in London’s Ritz Hotel, and on the other, the stage she inhabits during her final performances. The set is Bill Haycock’s inspired design and perfectly complementing it is David Walters’ sumptuous lighting. With the interesting addition of projected images by Tim Roane, of blossoming flowers and, during a poignant moment late in the piece, the face of Garland’s fiancé, we see far below the seemingly impenetrable surface of Judy, superstar and living legend. We see what gets under her skin, and (it’s a chilling effect) we hear the sounds of the Munchkins’ voices, contextualising perfectly the memories and forced habits of a child star who never had her childhood, and who never really grew up.

 

 

O’Leary’s Ritalin-induced manic performance finally brought the tears to my eyes; they’d been threatening to slide slowly, surreptitiously down my cheeks but the show had been, strangely, so funny, as well as being terribly sad. From the outset I had felt deep despair for this tragic, delicate figure, before finding myself laughing out loud at some outrageous comment or other made by the Judy who always got what she wanted, including the drugs that eventually killed her.  No use reaching for tissues yet though, because Quilty has included Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which O’Leary delivers longingly from behind the scrim, in her immortality, causing me to look up at lights and continue to blink away tears.

“It’s a terrible thing to know what you’re capable of…and to never get there.”

 

So Quilter successfully takes us on Garland’s final five-week roller coaster ride, but not without the help of (O’Leary’s husband) Andrew McNaughton’s adept musical direction and the gentle guidance of Director, David Bell, whose attention to detail rivals only O’Leary’s; together they leave nothing undone. Bell says of O’Leary, “Her performance, while underpinned by meticulous research and an eye for fine detail, is astonishingly brave and painfully human. Her Judy is not a legend but a human being.” And this is why she is able to move us beyond tears and back to rapturous applause – a deserved standing ovation on opening night – because this Judy knows the show must go on. It’s all she has. We believe it because we feel that O’Leary has raised the stakes that high.

 

Christen O'LearyEnd of the Rainbow is somehow the most joyous evening of true-life tragedy you’ll experience this year. It’s theatre making at its best, achieving the perfect balance of fact and fiction, triumphant success and dire failure, addiction, confusion and ultimately, a joy so spectacular your heart will fill to bursting and you’ll leave the theatre feeling like you’ve had a drink with a legend, and held the hand of the same dear friend. Whether or not you’re a Judy Garland fan, I guarantee you’ll feel her pain, marvel at her incredible talent and determination, and wonder how we can sit still and watch in awe and horror as our favourite stars, to this day, destroy themselves in front of our eyes.

 

End of the Rainbow closes on March 24th and I hope the short season is indication that the show will hit the road…because this baby’s got legs!

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Responses to “End of the Rainbow”


  1. 1 Barbara Lowing
    March 10, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Christen O’Leary is truly one of the greatest actors this country has ever had. She is extraordinary.


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