why Judy Garland Still Matters


If Judy Garland were just her mannerisms, a thousand drag queens would be stars. But the centrifugal limbs, semaphore poses, and vibrato so broad it seems to have swallowed another vibrato are necessary, not sufficient, conditions. So it’s merely a good start that Tracie Bennett nails the externals as late-stage Garland in End of the Rainbow, Peter Quilter’s drama with songs, opening this week on Broadway. Indee­d, backstage at the Belasco, a small industry and several rooms are devoted to helping her maintain the illusion, with chestnut wigs, spangled shoes, and racks of costumes copied from Garland’s outfits of the period, including the vermilion beaded pantsuit and chartreuse scarf she legendarily nicked from the studio after getting canned from Valley of the Dolls. But while all this makes for a great impersonation, what Bennett, a British stage actress, is doing is deeper, more dangerous, and, to some of us watching, therefore more disturbing. She’s playing a diva as an actual dramatic character, a kind of Hedda Gabler with pills instead of a gun. As such, she’s more real than any mere mimicry could make her, never more so than when belting “Come Rain or Come Shine” in the second act. Holding onto the melody for dear life, her Garland seems as if she might otherwise fly apart like an IED. “You’re gonna love me like nobody’s loved me,” she pleads, looking straight at the audience.

more from Jesse Green at New York Magazine here.