Monday, May 4, 2015

reviews - END OF THE RAINBOW - Phoenix Theatre

Jeannie Shubitz and Jeff Kennedy
(Photo: Erin Evangeline Photography)
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

 "...Despite praise heaped by the press for the performance of the show’s original Judy Garland, British actress Tracie Bennett, it’s hard to believe that what West End and Broadway audiences saw could have surpassed the emotional complexities and powerhouse performance witnessed on opening night at Phoenix Theatre’s Hormel Theatre production delivered by Jeannie Shubitz.  She was, and is, quite simply, stunning. As the title suggests, End of the Rainbow is a four-person musical drama that explores the final chapter in the tumultuous life of Hollywood great Judy Garland.  It’s 1968 and Garland (Shubitz) and her new young fiancĂ© and manager, Mickey Deans (Caleb Reese), have landed in London, preparing for five weeks at The Talk of the Town.  They book a suite at the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly, not too far from the venue, and immediately there’s trouble.  Garland is broke and doesn’t have the money for the room...As with several biographical dramas based on real events, playwright Quilter takes what we know of those turbulent times for Judy Garland and imagines what was said, or more appropriately, what was shouted behind closed doors at the Ritz....The amount of booze and pills consumed by Judy Garland is shocking...There’s no fun to be had when watching the beloved Judy Garland presented as a vulgar, obnoxious, drug-addled, foul-mouthed drunk, but from what we know, particularly from the overdose that killed her in London the following year, it’s an accurate portrayal...Quilter’s script often feels in danger of tipping over into overwrought melodrama in the way a TV biopic might go, cramming obvious points into the dialog while making as many conversational references to Garland’s past as possible...Given the subject and her behavior, it would be difficult for a playwright not to succumb to leaning heavily in that direction, but where this Phoenix Theatre production shines and rises above the script are during those moments when director Karla Koskinen makes everyone step back and gives Shubitz room to rip...Jeannie Shubitz doesn’t look like Judy Garland...and that’s a good thing: a direct impersonation would distract – but everything else about the performance brings the famed Hollywood legend to life.  Each moment when scenic designer Douglas Clarke’s inventive revolving stage alters and changes the hotel room into The Talk of the Town, you’re transfixed.  It’s not just Shubitz’s ability to sell those songs from a shaky start to a big finish, it’s the manner with which each production number differs, depending on Garland’s state of mind and health at that given moment.  Her drug-addled performance of "Come Rain and Shine" where she fidgets as she sings with an uncontrollable, nervous energy fueled by Ritalin is both exciting and uncomfortable.  It’s an astonishing achievement." -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"Peter Quilter's recent Broadway play End of the Rainbow makes its Arizona debut in a fine production from Phoenix Theatre with a crackerjack performance by Jeannie Shubitz as Judy Garland. The play provides a private view into several weeks toward the end of Garland's life. It also has at its core one of those performances that will stick with you for days, if not years, in Shubitz's stellar portrayal of this legendary lady...While the play isn't perfect, and has a few too many contrived situations that seem to only be present to provide conflict, it is an intriguing expose into what life must have been like for a star of Garland's caliber, who suffered from years of addiction....While not much private footage of Garland from the mid 1960s is available, there are several concert videos and recordings that show Garland's frenetic behavior. As most people know, she was addicted to pills and alcohol, allegedly stemming from her teen years working in Hollywood. In End of the Rainbow, Garland is portrayed as more of a happy addict, someone who yearns to live a simple life but also has the burning desire to be the center of the party....Jeannie Shubitz perfectly portrays the idea of Garland being pulled in these two different directions and is spot-on in the several performance moments throughout the show. With a fairly accurate accent, her voice, speech patterns and mannerisms bring Judy to life on stage. She also gets the power, phrasing, and control in Garland's well documented singing voice perfectly right, which makes it eerily reminiscent of Garland's....all comes together in a stellar, virtual tour de force performance. Shubitz shows us both the rawness and beauty behind this well-known and well-loved woman and also expertly shows the frenzied, nervous, frantic, and frightened woman, the demons that haunt her, and the impact of what years of alcohol and pills have done to her...She perfectly captures the way that Garland owned the stage, the way she would fling the microphone cord around and almost get tripped by it, and how she connected with the audience—an audience who never knew if Judy was going to have an emotional melt down on stage or soar to new heights. Shubitz masterly shows us the trooper who knows the show must go on but also the scared girl who just wants to be left alone. She throws herself into every element of the role with fearless abandonment. I have no idea how she can manage to perform this role several times a week, as she deserves an endurance medal just for getting through a single performance....Director Karla Koskinen expertly stages the action, making the fireworks pop in the many fiery hotel scenes...  it is the quiet scenes that have even more of an impact. The scenes in which Garland softly pleads with Mickey and says "don't give up on me," or, suffering from the side effects of taking too many pills, she finds the determination to throw them away, have just as much resonance as the powerhouse performance numbers...While it isn't a perfect play, the way Quilter effectively weaves in two of Garland’s best known songs, "The Man That Got Away" and "Over the Rainbow," at key moments, helps with the shortcomings. Even though there may be some problems with the play itself, this is a production to see for Shubitz's amazing performance, one you won't forget for a long time after the curtain comes down." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"...Many of us fantasize about being a fly on the wall in the lives of the rich and famous, but in End of the Rainbow...we get more than we bargained for. The setting is December 1968 in London, where staging what will be the last of her career comebacks, performing a five-week cabaret show at a club called the Talk of the Town. Scenes alternate between Garland's hotel suite and the stage at the club...The concerts are first a triumph and then a disaster as the aging star begins to lose her battle with addiction to alcohol and pills...Shubitz's performance is astounding as she puts her character through a wringer of passion and rage, ecstasy and despair, and in the concert scenes she sings with power, grace and verve, but also with the brittle edge of a woman at war with her own failing body...Phoenix Theatre's production is directed by Karla Koskinen, who coaxes closely observed performances from all of the leads.... End of the Rainbow...sometimes edges uncomfortably into voyeuristic territory, but that's also what makes it so compelling. It's a car crash on the freeway of stardom, and we cannot look away." -Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

"The rise and fall and rise and fall of Judy Garland is a familiar narrative, a tale multiple times told, but always ripe and ready for new insights and anecdotes that might shed light on the legend. Would that Peter Quilter's End of the Rainbow, just opened at Phoenix Theatre and directed by Karla Koskinen, filled the bill more fully on this opportunity.Instead, there's a good deal of clamoring, stomping and pacing (with an overdose of profanities that serve as a poor excuse for a bland and unimaginative script) built around the ebbs and flows of Ms. Garland's moods and cries for a fix as she prepares for her run at the Talk of the Town nightclub....It is the all-out smashing performance of Jeannie Shubitz, however, that makes every moment of this production worth watching. Shubitz captures Garland's mannerisms ~ the flightiness, fidgeting, and foot kicks; the one hand wraparound of her elbow; the arcing of her body as she belts out and sustains every loving note. More importantly, Shubitz carries the play with a powerhouse voice that drives straight to the audience's heart and gives extra special meaning to her signature songs. When Shubitz lights the torch to "The Man that Got Away" or "Come Rain or Come Shine" or, of course, "Over the Rainbow," her riveting and inspired portrayal renders them extra meaning....When all is said and sung, at the end of Judy Garland's rainbow is our shared adoration of a musical legend and our sadness for the pains she endured. Garland may say, "I gave them everything. There's nothing left." Kudos to Ms. Shubitz for reminding us that this is not at all so." -Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

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