Judy Garland's legendary triumphs and tragedies, dish and dirt have been chronicled so often and in so many forms, it would seem no nuance is left to be unearthed. Then there is Tracie Bennett, a performer whose colossal vocal and emotional power in End of the Rainbow
pull us eagerly into a known quantity of expected bathos, then without warning sheds sentiment in favor of caustic reality, portraying Garland as less a victim than vicious miscreant. In the last year of her life, broke and desperate, the star leans on her new young fiancé,Mickey Deans (a perfectly tacky Erik Heger), to whom she is simultaneously delightfully brittle, cruel and irresistible as he arranges her last-chance gig -- a five-week concert run in London. At her side also is accompanist Anthony (smartly played by Michael Cumpsty), who represents her enormous gay following. The two men alternately join forces and skirmish, attempting to keep Garland clean, sober and stage-ready. Peter Quilter's lean and piercing script leaves little room for the maudlin, focusing instead on Garland's extremely sharp wit and lifelong addict's tricks to stay one step ahead of her keepers at all times. Masterful director Terry Johnson keeps the cast tightly connected to the material while allowing his star to soar in her myriad musical numbers, both in messy rehearsals with Anthony and during her bright moments in front of packed houses. Music director Jeffrey Saver and his band consummately create those moments through Chris Egan's classic orchestrations and the simple brilliance of Bennett's performance.
Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Starts: March 20. Continues through April 21, 2013