Dead and buried 43 years in June, Judy Garland still provides carrion for vultures.
“End of the Rainbow,” a London hit now transferred to Broadway, is the latest shameless attempt to capitalize on a life whose unhappy conclusion is as storied as the stardom that preceded it.
Tracie Bennett stars (if such a word can be applied to an impersonation bettered any night in any downtown drag bar) as Judy in late 1968.
Pills, booze and paranoia have made her all but unbookable. A new fiance has taken over her management, determined to clean her up and get her in shape for a grueling run of performances in London. They have bills to pay.
The setting is a posh hotel suite (nicely rendered by William Dudley) that the nearly impoverished star deems unfit for midgets. That’s the level of humor in abundance here.
Mickey Deans, the midnight cowboy who will eventually give in to Judy’s demands for pharmaceutical assistance when she predictably falls apart on stage, is played by Tom Pelphrey. The gifted Michael Cumpsty plays Anthony, the gay music director/accompanist who loves her.
See Judy pop pills. Watch Judy vomit. Avert your eyes as Judy services her young buck. Listen as Judy, jazzed on Ritalin, loudly unravels before an adoring audience.
In each of these scenelets, Bennett -- small, angular, hard -- is undoubtedly accurate, except for the soul part.
We are treated to awful snippets from such signature numbers as “The Man That Got Away” and “The Trolley Song,” though none of the ballads that might have given the show a tiny bit of humanity. Six months after these performances, in June 1969, she was dead.
A saving grace for this unsalvageable travesty is the superb five-piece ensemble that augments the piano during the concert sections. They swing. You could listen to them all night.
At the Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: (no stars)
‘Now. Here. This.’
The clever team behind “[title of show]” is back at downtown’s Vineyard Theatre with “Now. Here. This.”
It’s an eccentric mishmash of songs about the life force, love and the like, starting with ambitious amino acids.
The tour takes us through exhibits at a place suspiciously like the American Museum of Natural History and involving the lives of the show’s four performers, three of whom (Hunter Bell, Susan Blackwell and Jeff Bowen) created the musical. The fourth is the always entertaining Heidi Blickenstaff.
At times “Now. Here. This.” quotes Baba Ram Dass; at other times it seems like a commission from a science foundation who, possibly in an oversight, chose a gang of hippies to write a science-themed show.
The result, staged by Michael Berresse, is intermittently charming. A little goes a long way.
Through April 22 at 108 E. 15th St. Information: +1-212-279-4200; http://www.vineyardtheatre.org Rating: *1/2
What the Stars Mean: **** Do Not Miss *** Excellent ** Good * So-So (No stars) Avoid
(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are his own.)