Rachel Weinberg has been a freelance theater critic around Chicago for more than three years. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Prior to that, Rachel worked for two years in digital marketing at Goodman Theatre and spent a season as a Marketing Apprentice for Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City. You can read all of Rachel's reviews at RachelWeinbergReviews.com and find her on Twitter @RachelRWeinberg.
(L to R) Angela Ingersoll and Kyle Hatley. Photo by Kelsey Jorissen.
Review: END OF THE RAINBOW at Porchlight Music Theatre
By Rachel Weinberg
The name Judy Garland for many may capture an image of the youthful, vibrant young actor with a powerhouse voice that donned sparkling red shoes as Dorothy Gale in the seminal 1939 film THE WIZARD OF OZ. Peter Quilter’s play END OF THE RAINBOW, now in a production at Porchlight Music Theater with direction from Michael Weber and a compelling and beautifully realized performance by Angela Ingersoll as Garland, pulls back the curtain and shows us a haunted and broken woman nearing the end of her career. The play’s depiction of Judy Garland plagued by the demons of her past and struggling with alcoholism and a dangerous addiction to prescription medication makes the case that END OF THE RAINBOW is a timely play to mount, even as it also allows us to remember Garland’s glorious song catalog and the glamorous vaudeville tunes for which she was known.
Just as Judy Garland was the center of her own universe of fame and star worship, so too does Ingersoll own every moment she is on the stage. Ingersoll captures all of Garland’s wildly swinging ups and downs as an addict in a shockingly realistic manner. She allows us to see the side of Garland that was gleeful and enamored with her young fiancee Mickey Deans (charmingly portrayed by Kyle Hartley) and ecstatic to reunite with her long-time friend and accompanist Anthony (a tender Jon Steinhagen, who also serves as music director) at the beginning of a six-week concert engagement in London. But when Garland succumbs to one of her cravings or enters into an alcohol and pill-infused stupor, Ingersoll fully allows us to see this terrifying and broken side of the character too. Felipe Jorge rounds out the cast, assuming the role of a bemused radio host who interviews Garland in a particularly fragile and hazy state, among other roles.
Ingersoll conducts a veritable master class with her acting, and vocally her performance is equally as astounding. END OF THE RAINBOW is best described as a “play with music,” and it showcases a number of scenes from Garland’s concert engagements. For these musical numbers, Ingersoll is delightfully backed by a full-sounding band. She dives into each of the songs with an intoxicating blend of mesmerizing vocal prowess and raw emotion, just as Garland herself was able to do. And while Ingersoll sounds uncannily like Garland—particularly on the famous “Trolley Song” from MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS—her vulnerable and masterful performance allows her to make the role her own. Decked out in Bill Morey’s glittering costumes, Ingersoll commands the stage but shows us Garland’s tortured soul in each moment. And when she sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at the show’s end, the effect is both jaw-dropping and heartbreaking—a fitting conclusion to a lovely and emotional night of theater.
END OF THE RAINBOW runs through December 9th at Stage 773. Tickets are $45 – $51. Single tickets may be purchased at 773.327.5252 or at PorchlightMusicTheatre.org.