Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Finding an actress capable of channeling even the slightest sense of this mercurial star might add an even greater challenge. Quilter has done his part; the play is well written and offers a plausible sense of what she might have been like. End of the Rainbow presents as rounded a picture as we are ever likely to get from a single source. Tracie Bennett had great success in the part in London and on Broadway and I see other respected actresses have taken on the role in various other productions.
After a big success as Margaret Johnson in The Light in the Piazza at freeFall last year, Melissa Minyard returns as Judy Garland with another excellent performance. No one can hope to recreate such an iconic artist, but Ms. Minyard is able to suggest to those with far less intimate knowledge of this great star a sense of her charisma. Her performance is fine enough to send me rushing back to "Judy at Carnegie Hall" to re-experience the real thing. Ms. Minyard's voice is honestly a little more solid than Garland's was at this late stage of her life and she is able to suggest the raw excitement and some of the Garland mannerisms. In a wig designed by Scott Daniel, currently onstage across town as Corny Collins, the resemblance between Minyard and the real Garland is striking.
Judy is torn between two forces, Mickey Deems, the man she has quickly fallen in love with, ostensibly straight (more about this later) and played here by Robert Teasdale, and Anthony, her gay pianist for an engagement at London's Talk of the Town, who wants to protect her from everything, played by Michael Ursua. Mr. Ursua's acting is first rate and he also is called upon to play piano and lead the band which he does very well. Robert Teasdale, whom I have praised in the past as a solid utility performer, gets a part he can stand out in, possibly the best he has had at this company. He is able to suggest the underlying possible gayness that the real Mickey Deems was accused of after his short marriage to Judy (she died only two months after the marriage and three months after this play takes place). Daniel Schwab completes the cast in three small roles.
freeFall's Artistic Director Eric Davis directs, and since all three principals are giving fine performances, it seems clear he has done a fine job.
End of the Rainbow opened to very strong box office with the entire first weekend SRO, so an extra week has been added to the run. Judy Garland continues to fascinate us 48 years after her death. Thankfully, she left a legacy of film work, recordings made all through her career, including a number of live performances, and even a short-lived TV series which is readily available. This fine production will serve to introduce new audiences to Garland beyond her classic performance in The Wizard of Oz and remind those of us who are fans why we are.
freeFall Theatre Company presents End of the Rainbow through May 4, 2017, at 6099 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg. For ticket and performance information, visit www.freefalltheatre.com.
Artistic Director/Director: Eric Davis