Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Beyond The Rainbow
Also see John's review of Florida's Singing Sons Boychoir
Loewy/Leone Productions, in association with the Stage Door Theatre, presents the Judy Garland retrospective Beyond The Rainbow by William Randall Beard. Beyond The Rainbow was originally commissioned and developed by the History Theatre, Inc., in St. Paul, Minnesota, and produced by The Great American History Theatre in the Spring of 2005. The Minnesota historical ties to the commission of this work are based on the fact that Judy Garland, neé Frances Gumm, was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The East Coast premiere of Beyond The Rainbow was staged at The Florida Stage Theatre in Manalapan, Florida, in the Spring of 2006.
The time is April 23, 1961, when a 38-year-old Garland performed at Carnegie Hall in what the New York Times called "the concert of the century." The setting is both on the stage of Carnegie Hall and in Judy Garland's mind. Woven into her concert performance are the specters of Garland's past, living on in her memory: Her late mother and father, husbands, friends, co-workers and critics dart in and out of her consciousness.
It is no secret that Garland's troubled and tumultuous personal life, combined with her emotionally fragile nature, both made and destroyed her. Therefore, her memories torture her as much as they strengthen her as a person and a performer. In the words of the show's author, William Randall Beard: "There are times when the memories become too painful, when she is tormented by her demons. At those points, she grabs the microphone and uses the songs as a way to dispel them and regain control of her life." These are the finest moments in the show. And, in the words of Judy Garland herself: "The history of my life is in my songs." Judy's Carnegie Hall appearance marked a huge comeback for the star, and the live recording Judy at Carnegie Hall received five Grammy Awards and went Gold within a year.
The script of Beyond the Rainbow appears to have undergone substantial fine tuning since its East Coast Premiere in 2006. The result is a more cohesive throughline. Direction by Peter J. Loewy lends clean transitions in and out of Judy's memory and the actual concert at hand. Kate Botello has the unenviable job of singing and acting like Judy Garland. She convincingly portrays a manically energetic, pill-popping Judy. It is as though Judy is driven to perform as if performing would chase her demons away. Botello does a good job at both acting and singing like Judy. There are times in the show, such as when she is singing "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "The Man That Got Away", that one would have difficulty discerning the voice heard was not actually Garland's. She is best at maintaining the Garland sound in bigger numbers rather than the softer ballads. The four-piece band behind her plays arrangements that are well written representations of the originals, but not all of the instruments are played well, and the tempos are unfortunately frequently too rushed.
Leanne Driscoli is just right as a young Judy questioning her place in the world of entertainment, and seeking merely to be loved. She and Kate Botello share the stage well in moments when they are speaking to and/or singing with one another. They also bear enough of a resemblance to make the casting work.
The supporting actors deftly maneuver playing multiple characters, quickly establishing relationships and making emotional points before moving on. Seth Bognar, Susan Travers and Matthew William Chizever have the challenging task of playing twenty-six different roles. Seth Bognar is particularly watchable as Frank Gumm and Vincente Minnelli. Matthew William Chizever is perfect as Sid Luft. Susan Travers is good as both a bitter Ethel Gumm and an acidic Hedda Hopper.
Beyond The Rainbow plays through May 1, 2007 at the Stage Door Theatre on 26th Street in Wilton Manors. FL. The Stage Door's two stages in Coral Springs as well as their 26th Street Theatre location are open year round. The Stage Door Theatre is a not-for-profit professional theatre company hiring local and non-local non union actors and actresses. Some shows, such as Beyond The Rainbow, when produced by outside companies, may hire local and non-local Equity actors and actresses as well. For tickets and information on this show and the rest of the Stage Door Theatre season, you may contact the theatre at 954-344-7765 or on line at www.stagedoortheatre.com.
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