05/01/2012 09:17 am ET Updated Jul 01, 2012

Judy Garland: Gone, But Still On The Comeback Trail--Straight To Broadway's 'End Of The Rainbow'

"The earth keeps turning round and gets nowhere. The moment is the only thing that counts," said Jean Cocteau.

  • IF THE 2 p.m. shuttle, from New York to Washington on the day of the White House Correspondents' dinner in D.C., had gone down, that would have been a real disaster for the five networks, especially for ABC-TV.

    Boarding at one time were Barbara Walters, with her longtime friend - the mover and shaker
    Vernon Jordan ...."World News" chief Diane Sawyer... "Nightline's" Cynthia McFadden...ABC's
    new star Katie Couric... NBC's Kate Snow and Harry at least two Fox anchors whose names escaped those looking on. (I guess CBS TV transported their people a la "Star Trek.")

    But all the aforesaid landed safely without any fisticuffs or you'd certainly know about it.
  • "END of the Rainbow" is a troubling experience in Broadway's new musical theater, being both thrilling and depressing.

    I suppose the dichotomy of it all goes to the heart of those of us who remember the real, live Judy Garland and others, to whom her early tragic death and unending genius, remain mysterious.

    The story, as related by Peter Quilter, and directed rousingly by Terry Johnson shows us Garland only at the end of her fabled career as singer, actress and movie star, arriving in London for what was to be her final personal appearance.

    Still, no matter your age, your actual memories, or your merely historical ones, there is a bravura performance by England's Tracie Bennett that should not be missed. One leaves the Belasco Theater wondering how she does it even once, let alone eight times a week.

    Miss Bennett is more than ably assisted by Tom Pelphrey as Mickey Deans (Judy's last husband) and by pianist accompanist Michael Cumpsty, who seems to represent an entire world of gay men who adored Judy through the ages.

    As you probably know, Garland died of an overdose after this representation of her drug-
    addicted decline, still trying to perform up to her own and other's standards and the demands that she remain a super star forever.

    I admit that the entire rambunctious, over-the-top first act just about killed me! Like those gay guys, I had spent a lifetime adoring Judy from her teenage appearances in MGM the Palace in what was called her post-movie "heyday" (I once saw her

    dancing onstage with Walter Winchell)...and seeing and experiencing her up close in the downhill phase of her marriage to Sid Luft. (I also have had the chance to know Liza Minnelli well and have enjoyed all of her "Mama always said..." stories.)

    I just sat there in the dark unable to clap, or jeer, or laugh, or cry as Miss Bennett worked through a cavalcade of song fragments, dance acrobatics, gestures, poses, positions, wonderful wisecracks and put downs, laughter to tears, dispensing "Judy" in bolts of electricity. She is mightily effective and affecting -- not doing it all as an imitation -- but acting a Judy near the end of her tether. Garland is preparing for what was to be her last gasp but doesn't seem to know it.

    But despite my stunned first reaction, by the second act where Garland goes to total pieces onstage in a burst of hilarious misguided physicality and exits saying "Fuck you!" to the audience, I had totally bought the whole thing. I waited, hopelessly, as a romantic junkie and celebrity-crazed kid for Judy to go off in the drug-free sunset with one who loved her better than the user Mickey Deans. (He was already dispensing drugs to her because "the show must go on.")

    Inexplicably, I wanted a happy ending. Miss Bennett had convinced me she was the wickedly
    funny, wisecracking, needy, manipulative star, longing to retire from drugs and show biz to a little cottage where the sun would never set. We all knew better.

    Then, suddenly, it ended. There was a stage announcement of Garland's death because of an
    overdose and Frank Sinatra and James Mason had paid for her funeral and thousands of people marched by her bier.

    Reality set in. Judy Garland was gone - again! Over and out.

    But then, in a thumping gung ho ending, Tracie Bennett manages to bring her back to us. It's quite a finale. The real-life Judy would have loved it. Then she'd surely exit, this time with "Fuck you!" and "I love you" both on her lips.

    If you are a celebrity-ridden, star-loving, myth-believing, secret tabloid-lover of Broadway musicals and old MGM magic and of one of the greatest talents ever to exist in show business, you owe it to yourself to go see this show at the Belasco.

    One wonders what Miss Bennett would or could ever do as an encore for this role?