It’s December 1968 and Judy Garland is about to make her comeback... again. In a London hotel room with her young new fiancé at her side, Garland battles with a tornado of drugs and alcohol as she undertakes an exhausting series of concerts at the Talk of the Town to try and reclaim her crown as the greatest talent of her generation. Despite a series of failed marriages and a wrecked Hollywood career, Judy remains a tough, compelling, remarkable woman always armed to the teeth with her legendary razor-sharp wit.
Garland died in London following an accidental drugs overdose on 22 June 1969, aged 47. Quilter’s musical drama about her final months includes several of her best-known songs, including “Get Happy”, “Come Rain or Come Shine”, “The Trolley Song”, “The Man That Got Away” and, from The Wizard of Oz, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.
End of the Rainbow had its world premiere in July 2005 at Sydney Opera House and proved a sell-out hit there and in Melbourne, with another Whatsonstage.com Award winner, Australian Caroline O'Connor, who reprised her performance for the show’s UK premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in August 2006, when it was previously expected to transfer (See The Goss, 19 Jun 2006).
However, Tracie Bennett isn’t exactly a stranger to the role. She appeared in an earlier incarnation of Quilter’s play at London’s New End Theatre in 2001, when it ran under the title of The Last Song of the Nightingale and the American diva was unnamed though a thinly disguised version of Garland. Quilter’s other credits include the Boyband and Glorious!, both of which also had West End seasons.
More recently, Bennett has been busy in the West End, winning Whatsonstage.com Awards for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for first Hairspray and then La Cage aux Folles. The latter was also directed by Terry Johnson. Johnson’s many other directing credits include The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, Rain Man, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and his own plays Piano/Forte, Hitchcock Blonde and Dead Funny.
Joining Bennett in the West End cast are Hilton McRae and Stephen Hagan, reprising their Northampton performances as, respectively, Garland’s musical director and her fiancé-turned-fifth husband Mickey Deans. The production is designed by William Dudley, with sound by Gareth Owen, lighting by Simon Corder and musical direction by Gareth Valentine. It’s presented in the West End by Lee Dean, Jenny Topper, Laurence Myers, Charles Diamond and Hilary Williams in association with Royal & Derngate, Northampton.