Film Review: Judy (2019)

Renée Zellweger is sensational in Judy, a deeply moving account of Judy Garland’s final months in London directed by Rupert Goold

“I just want what everybody wants. I seem to have a harder time getting it.”

As if there were any doubt, Judy is a phenomenal success, and should see its star Renée Zellweger add to her tally of Academy Award nominations, if not the award itself. Loosely based on Peter Quilter’s play End of the Rainbow, it recalls the final year of Judy Garland’s life as a roll of the dice sees her decamp to London to perform in a series of concerts that she hoped would reignite interest in her career whose light was seriously fading in the US.

But years of substance abuse and the relentless ride of showbusiness have taken a serious toll, even just turning up on time proves a struggle (hard relate!) and that iconic voice can no longer be relied upon. Thus Tom Edge’s screenplay takes a slightly more realism-based approach than the play to show us the riskiness that accompanied Judy’s every step towards a stage and the slow, crushing realisation of what her life has amounted to. Continue reading “Film Review: Judy (2019)”

Review: Glorious, Frinton Summer Theatre

“If things don’t wobble when you walk, you should eat more dinner”

Between Maureen Lipman in the West End and Meryl Streep in Hollywood, the story of notorious singer Florence Foster Jenkins has become much more widely known over the last decade. It does however remain one that I had somehow avoided and so the chance to see see the Peter Quilter play Glorious! with the marvellous Stella Gonet in the lead was one I gladly took. It also meant my first trip to the Frinton Summer Theatre out by the seaside in Essex.

Foster Jenkins’ insistence on pursuing a career as a soprano of note had one major flaw in her lack of singing ability but with a family legacy able to pay enough yesmen to shield her from any negative reaction and the force of her good nature, a striking journey was established. And in Quilter’s play, it a journey we witness through the eyes of her new pianist Cosmé McMoon, taken on to accompany Foster Jenkins at her 1944 concert at none other than Carnegie Hall. Continue reading “Review: Glorious, Frinton Summer Theatre”

Review: End of the Rainbow, Churchill Bromley

“I’m Judy Garland, now pay me some respect”

The enduring legacy of Judy Garland may be considered the preserve of gay men of a certain age but but what Peter Quilter’s End of the Rainbow, a play with songs rather than an all-out musical, reminds us is that hers was a tragedy in which all of our increasingly celebrity-obsessed society is complicit. The play is set in the months leading up to her death in 1969, as desperate to pay off her debtors, her new young fiancé and manager Mickey Deans signed her up for a five week run of cabaret shows at The Talk of the Town though as became clear to see, Garland’s struggles made it a very difficult time.

With the press against her, willing her on to ever more scandalous deeds, friends deserting her as her drug dependencies also pushed away four husbands, and a career that was nosediving as a result of all this drama, Deans was banking on this being the comeback of all comebacks. But Quilter shows us through a number of scenes, that the extremities of her behaviour impossibly strained the relationships in her life, even with her devoted Brighton-based pianist Anthony, her body and mind warped by endless years of being a part of the fame game and unable to deal with being chewed up and spat out by the Hollywood machine. Continue reading “Review: End of the Rainbow, Churchill Bromley”

Review: End of the Rainbow, Trafalgar Studios

“But how much should we believe Judy?
‘All of it…otherwise what’s the point.’”

Following a run in Northampton earlier this year, Peter Quilter’s Judy Garland biographical musical drama End of the Rainbow is taking up residence at the Trafalgar Studios theatre, featuring a stellar performance from Tracie Bennett in the lead role. The play centres around the five-week period in 1968 when she undertook a cabaret season at the Talk of the Town in London in order to try and pay off the mountain of debt accumulated during a life of numerous marriages and divorces, repeated comebacks, drug dependency, ill health, suicide attempts and a whole lotta other drama too.

This isn’t so much an impersonation of Judy Garland as an embodiment of her by Tracie Bennett, in what is a truly awe-inspiring performance. And it is testament to the depth of her skill that one isn’t longing for the next song to kick in as the acting scenes are just as strong and engaging as she battles with her constant need for reassurance, her fears of not being loved and ending up alone and the struggle to keep off the pills. This is clearly no hagiography as even though we get to see much of her waspish humour with some cracking one-liners, Garland is also shown at the depth of her desperation, begging to be given some of her ‘grown-up candy’, stumbling and cracking onstage during performances. Continue reading “Review: End of the Rainbow, Trafalgar Studios”