Chicago Theatre Review
Theatrical Gold Awaits in Milwaukee
End of the Rainbow
In a lavish London hotel suite dominated by a baby grand and high windows (that later transform into the venue where the singing legend performed her final concert), Judy Garland, played to perfection by Chicago musical theatre actress Hollis Resnik, bursts onto the scene, sinks her teeth and claws into this production and never lets go until the end. Sharing the stage with the two men currently in her life, her young fiancee and manager Mickey Deans and Anthony, her long-time British accompanist, Ms. Resnik isn’t merely an actress in a role. She IS Judy Garland and this show belongs exclusively to her.
Hollis Resnik, always the consummate performer, is perfection in director Mark Clements’ production. She completely inhabits the 47-year-old icon, whose private life became riddled with anxiety, loneliness and a desperation for love. This is no easy task. Ms. Resnik throws herself into her performance with a deceptively wild abandon, however this talented actress is always in full control at every moment. Resnik has done her homework and she really understands what made Judy Garland tick. Ms. Resnik’s sheer stamina and drive alone is inspiring, but she also manages to bring to her portrayal the vulnerable child star forced to perform and grow up on studio lots. In Act II Garland confides that she’s frightened of not always being the entertainer that her fans expect, making her dependency upon alcohol and drugs understandable.
Ms. Resnik has also mastered Judy Garland’s signature movements, posturing, speech pattern and vocal style. She’s even got Garland’s laugh down pat, which so frequently erupts out of nowhere. And lest you think this is all heavy drama, there are lots of comic moments, sparked by the script’s dark humor and self-deprecating sarcasm. And, of course, there’s the music. Hollis Resnik, having starred in national tours of “Sister Act,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Les Miserables,” and many, many other productions (including my favorite, Little Edie in “Grey Gardens”) is an accomplished songstress. Her Garland-inspired renditions of such classics as “The Trolley Song,” “The Man Who Got Away,” “You Made Me Love You,” and of course, “Over the Rainbow,” and others are impeccable.
Peter Quilter’s award-winning play imagines Judy Garland’s life and career as she spirals into self-destruction during a six-week engagement at London’s Talk of the Town. Her attempt to overcome a rash of bad press, her addiction to drugs and booze and her desperation to hold onto the man destined to become her sixth husband is played out alternately on stage and within her lavish hotel suite (beautifully designed by Dan Conway). Both Nicholas Harazin (as Mickey) and Thomas J. Cox (as Anthony) have their work cut out for them playing against Ms. Resnik’s diva. Cox has a moment at the top of Act II that’s especially tender and empathetic as he provides Judy the sympathetic love she craves while applying her makeup. Harazin’s subtle metamorphosis from Garland’s caring lover into a steely, no-nonsense manager who’ll do anything to get the star back on the stage is chilling, yet honest.
But this is Ms. Resnik’s show from start to finish, and both director Mark Clements and musical director Dan Kazemi completely understand and support her performance. Leaving this theatrical experience, audiences will be spent. But they’ll believe they’ve been transported back to 1968 and witnessed the sadly tragic last weeks in the life of an American legend.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 7-February 9 by the Milwaukee Rep Theater, 108 E. Wells St., Milwaukee, WI.