The regional premiere of “End of the Rainbow” plays in the Main Stage Theater at the Arvada Center through April 13.
The iconic Judy Garland (Tari Kelly) is in London preparing to make a spectacular return to the stage. It’s the Christmas season 1968 and the multi-talented star is accompanied by her new fiancee Mickey Deans (Zachary Clark). They enter their suite at the Ritz Hotel and are soon joined by Anthony (Jonas Cohen) a pianist with whom Judy has had a long and sometimes bumpy relationship.
The diva’s finances have taken a serious hit and the hotel is none too interested in being added to her long list of creditors. She buys time by sweet-talking the manager but as the days go by, the financial problems mushroom. Deans is not only the current romantic interest, he’s her new manager and has booked a long engagement. Though he tries to appear caring and concerned about Garland’s well-being, it soon becomes apparent that his main focus is upon himself. On the other hand, Anthony clearly does have the artist’s best interests as his top priority.
I went to the theater expecting to love the whole experience. The set was stunning; the band was in top form; but as the story began to unfold, I found myself feeling unsettled and uncomfortable. Garland was not the sweet little girl from Kansas. She was self-absorbed, demanding, and cursed with wild abandon, much to the discomfort of the kind, gentle Anthony. I really couldn’t wait for the evening to be over.
Thankfully, as the story progressed, I was drawn in. The songs, like “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” and “When You’re Smiling,” were wonderful. The connection between the singer and her pianist was palpable. Anthony reminded her that she had a cadre of gay accompanists who would always be in her corner. Initially, Deans insisted that Garland abandon all her pills and alcohol, but he not only gave in to her pleas, he eventually insisted that she continue to use them. The deterioration of the legendary star was painful to see.
Tari Kelly has the voice and the presence that were Judy Garland’s hallmarks. While Kelly doesn’t “impersonate” the star, she definitely channels her. The chemistry between Kelly (Judy and Clark (Mickey) never came together for me. It’s a difficult show to see but I ultimately came to appreciate it and would certainly recommend it.
For tickets and information, call 720-898-7200 or visit . Moderated talkbacks with the cast will be held on Friday, April 4 after the 7:30 p.m. performance and again on Wednesday, April 9 after the 1 p.m. show. In addition, the show will be ASL interpreted for the hearing impaired on Friday, April 11 at 7:30 p.m.