Every first Wednesday of the month, get caught up with what’s on stage with our review round-up. And that vaguely hollow, clinking sound you hear at the end of each segment? That’s me tossing in my two cents. This month, two shows that are polar opposites on planet Show Biz…
Judy Garland returns to the New York stage, at least via Tracie Bennett‘s acclaimed performance, in a drama with music about the last days of the legendary performer.
“…Ms. Bennett…, as directed by Terry Johnson, is giving one of the most complete portraits of an artist I’ve ever seen.” New York Times
“Rather than turn in another technically fine, ultimately safe Garland impersonation, Bennett gives us the Garland mystique.” New York Post
“That Bennett performs this show eight times a week is a marvel indeed; seeing it just once kind of wore me out.” Time Out New York
“It’s a brave, bravura performance without a single false note.” Entertainment Weekly
Mizer’s Two Cents: Whatever they’re paying Tracie Bennett, it ain’t enough. With her fearlessly physical, emotionally committed and downright titanic performance, she not only overcomes the hurdles of a voyeuristic script but also lives up to pre-buzz expectations as she inhabits the final, drug-addled days of Judy Garland. Sure, if it were on film, we’d lament it as Oscar bait, acting as mere mimicry, but somehow seeing this transformation live, with Bennett/Garland’s exertion palpable and her ferocity electric, the very nature of the performative act gets at something essential about the flailing, fighting, frightened star. And when she sings, Bennett finds something approaching soul.
The undertow to the show, and what gives it some ghoulish depth beyond the central performance, is its depiction of the audience’s complicity in Garland’s downfall. We watch Bennett enact this train wreck and we are riveted, applauding wildly and wanting more…just as Garland’s audiences and advisors cheered/enabled her every painful comeback. I’m not sure this play satisfyingly grapples with the issue, but the production does leave you thinking about what it means and what it takes to be a star.