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Friday, November 11, 2016

Run (or take a trolley) to see Angela Ingersoll as Judy Garland in Porchlight Music Theatre's End of the Rainbow

Judy Garland has been a part of my life forever. When I was growing up, we always tuned in to the annual TV broadcast of The Wizard of Oz. And around Easter, some channel would show Judy and Fred Astaire strolling down the boulevard in Easter Parade. And now my husband always insists on watching Meet Me in St. Louis during the holiday season. As an adult, I discovered her classic live recording, Judy at Carnegie Hall, as well as her CBS series, The Judy Garland Show, on DVD. I've also read a few books about her troubled life, including Lorna Luft's Me And My Shadows: A Family Memoir. But none of this prepared me for Porchlight Music Theatre's Chicago premiere of Peter Quilter's play, End of the Rainbow, in which we see Judy in December 1968 making yet another comeback at the London nightclub, The Talk of the Town. It's definitely not a pretty picture as the insecure singer is popping pills with alcohol that cause dramatic and often angry mood swings. And it's also quite unsettling to see our beloved Judy uttering four-letter words and exhibiting a sexually voracious appetite for her young fiancé Mickey Deans. Obviously we're not in Kansas anymore.

So it took me awhile to adjust to this dark and disturbing portrait of Ms. Garland during her final year of life (she died on June 22, 1969). Fortunately, the production has cast the amazing Angela Ingersoll, whose heartbreaking portrayal of Judy is one of the best performances I've seen this year. At first I wasn't so sure since Ms. Ingersoll appears to be much younger than Judy, who looked much older than her 47 years. But then over the course of the evening, I watched her become Ms. Garland with a raunchy sense of humor, an increasingly frantic desperation, and a powerful voice to belt such memorable tunes as "Come Rain or Come Shine", "The Man that Got Away" and, of course, "Over the Rainbow". Ms. Ingersoll won me over completely.

I also must mention Kyle Hatley and music director Jon Steinhagen, who both give fine performances as Mickey Deans and Judy's accompanist Anthony. And Michael Weber's crisp direction makes the play fly by until the very end when you just want Judy to sing one more song - and she does. So although End of the Rainbow is at times quite difficult and sad to watch, it is most definitely worth seeing. And if you're a Judy Garland fan, you do not want to miss Ms. Ingersoll's exquisite impersonation. However, the show does make me look forward to the holidays when I will once again see Judy on that St. Louis trolley pining for the boy next door.

End of the Rainbow runs through December 9 at Stage 773 (1225 W. Belmont Ave). Tickets can be purchased online at or by phone at 773-327-5252.

The photo is by Kelsey Jorissen, and below you can watch a behind-the-scenes video for the production.

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