The “End of the Rainbow” at B’ham Hippodrome: a reflection on young talent and addiction by Daniela Bassi

End of the Rainbow production shot

Tracie Bennett as Judy Garland

Because Fierce Earth is now part of the Birmingham Hippodrome, we often have the chance to watch many shows, from ballets to prose, through to musicals. So this week I spent my Wednesday afternoon at theatre enchanted by Peter Quilter’s musical drama, on the one hand as a trainee on a mission, on the other as a young girl and hopeful singer.

“End of the Rainbow”. A title that hints at an end. Anyone who knows the story and life of Judy Garland can immediately figure out what is going to happen in the show. Judy Garland had a turbulent life studded with great success and dark moments of deep inner turmoil.
Her baggage of insecurities and anxieties is arose from a childhood that has nothing to do with the young age: Frank and Ethel Gumm put their daughter on a stage since she was two, instilling in her the belief that she should always be a winner. At the same time feelings of inadeguancy started to haunt her and overwhelmed her. Later, her psychological problems were also compounded by her entry in the studio system.

Hollywood medics regularly gave the young performers a wide range of new wonder drugs, such as amphetamines and phenobarbital, to help them cope with the frenetic rhythms of the star system.

Judy freely admitted her habit to her second husband, Vincente Minnelli, with whom she had her first-born Liza, in 1946. The next year she had a big breakdown during the production of “The Pirate” and attempted suicide. Over the next twenty years she spent her life rushing from one love story to another, from a clinic to the stage, in an endless loop.

In 1967 she met the club pianist Mickey Deans for the first time. And the show talks about this last period of her life, spent with Mickey. She already endured irrational bouts of paranoia and wild fury, enhanced by the assumption of her “happy pills”, but Mickey was continuing to provide her the narcotics.

Very sorrowful scene. Nevertheless, you can’t stop laughing. I couldn’t believe it, but Tracy Bennett’s interpretation is so stunning and hilarious that you feel transfixed for the whole duration of the show. She doesn’t play Judy Garland, she is Judy Garland, actually. The brilliant exuberance of this comedy and the unruly innocence of the protagonist really strike you deeply. Besides, the moment of Judy’s death is not represented, but it’s told by Hilton McRae in a very sensitive way, as he deserves a special mention for the touching interpretation of Anthony, Judy’s loyal friend and pianist.

Unfortunately, drink and drugs are nothing new in the show business, as well as we know that their ready availability is a dark shadow on this sparkling world. We could draft a long list of victims of the addiction, just remember Marilyn Monroe’s drug overdose, Kurt Cobain’s suicide or Elvis Presley’s death after years of abuse, and other two recent examples: Michael Jackson’s in 2009 and Amy Winehouse’s death in 2011.

Although it seems obvious, the point is that a prodigious and public childhood almost always leads to a hopelessly problematic adult life. Wealth, fame, affection (often ephemeral) are not enough to heal the severe wound in their soul. This kind of professional career cannot provide the security or stability that they always longed for. The only thing that could have saved them, would probably have been a childhood far from the spotlight and away from parents obsessed with the desire to get more and ever more from their children.

Anyway, we will enjoy forever of the artistic heritage that these falling stars have left us, but I really hope that know and understand the roots of these problems could help young artists not to sacrifice their lives in the name of the talent that makes them great.


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