Originally premiering in 2005, Peter Quilter's End of the Rainbow opened at Wolverhampton Grand last night. Produced by Paul Taylor Mills and Mercury Theatre, Colchester, in association with Coventry's Belgrade Theatre, the story chronicles Judy Garland's tumultuous last few months before her untimely death.
Over the years there have been numerous reincarnations of Judy's life through film and television, but Quilter's writing made this piece a delight from beginning to end. Sharp, witty and comical, it was a beautifully balanced piece. At times the audience were the eavesdroppers on the behind the scenes conversations and at other points the audience were the crowds flocking to see Garland perform live.
It felt raw and from the heart, with many moments that descended the audience into laughter or gasps. However, this was undoubtedly due to the sheer talent on the stage. Lisa Maxwell paints a thoroughly convincing portrait of Garland, with mannerisms, vocals and stage presence reminiscent of the fallen star. She was a triumph.
There was an equally excellent performance from Sam Attwater as Mickey Deans - his dominating stature made Maxwell's Judy look all the more fragile. Their heated exchanges, were juxtaposed to the mix of adoring love and anguish felt as Deans placed pills into Garland's hand, allowing her what she wanted. The audible 'tuts' from the audience, proved how engrossed each and every person was in this story.
Completing the trio of glittering performances was Gary Wilmot as the endearing and steadfast pianist Anthony Chapman. He captured his role beautifully, offsetting the bubbling arguments with comedy and level-headedness. A poignant moment was sensationally captured as he sat with Maxwell and applied her make-up, it didn't feel like you were in a theatre anymore, you were completely sucked into this honest and frank exchange.
Within the vast auditorium of the Grand, this show never faltered and a word wasn't lost. The ornate set was cleverly and dynamically designed by David Shields with just some simple set changes to turn it from grandiose hotel suite to a concert hall stage. And, the addition of the familiar Over The Rainbow melody to aid these scene changes, kept up the pace of the show.
As Garland's iconic songs rang through the auditorium, it was hard to believe it was Maxwell singing, she was uncanny. The entire production was utterly fantastic and it thoroughly deserved the standing ovation that it received.
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