04/03/2012 11:34 pm ET Updated Jun 03, 2012

Tracie Bennett: The Pot of Gold at Rainbow's End

Do not miss Tracie Bennett as Judy Garland. The petite frame, boyish chestnut do, twitchy gesture, agile thrashing, lusty bravado, pouting tantrums, and powerhouse voice, Tracie Bennett has the "Over the Rainbow" girl down.

End of the Rainbow, coming to Broadway's Belasco Theater upon the heels of Whitney Houston's sad demise, illustrates with great verve and great music: the untoward journey of the famous can be glamorous and grim. Focused on Judy Garland's last comeback in 1968, Peter Quilter's play under Terry Johnson's expert direction, features the star in a triangle with her fifth husband, a much younger Mickey Deans (Tom Pelphrey), and her adoring piano accompanist, Anthony (Michael Cumpsty), in many ways a stand-in for her legions of gay worshippers. This cast -- with Jay Russell in a variety of roles -- is exceptional, as are the band and William Dudey's sets, a suite at the London Ritz, and the Talk of the Town nightclub where at times Ritalin, liquor-feuled performances hit notes high and low. You would not be unhappy just listening to Bennett's Garland on the American songbook: "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," "Just in Time," "Smile," "For Me and My Gal," "The Man That Got Away." She brings the house down with a heartbreaking "Come Rain or Come Shine," and that's aside from the Harold Arlen/ Yip Harburg classic by which all remember her most.

Following concert tradition, Bennett comes back with one more song, "By Myself," after her audience has leapt to their feet in applause.

At Monday's opening night, well wishers -- including Jennifer Tilly and Stacy Keach -- crowded into a ballroom at the Plaza Hotel for an after party. New Jersey native Tom Pelphrey said he felt that audience's embrace at the Guthrie before coming to Broadway. Remarkably, he and British Tracie Bennett are making their Broadway debut.

Richard Kind said he'll be doing more theater now that his excellent HBO series Luck met its unlucky end. Noting Tracie Bennett's blond hair and calm manner as she worked the press line, Memphis star Montego Glover commented, "That's good. There's separation between the actor and her role." When I asked her which historic figure she'd like to portray, she did not hesitate, "Ethel Waters. Dorothy Dandridge. And yes, Judy."

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.