REVIEW: End Of The Rainbow, Lyceum

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BIOGRAPHICAL plays are tricky things - especially when they’re based on a well-worn story.

The sad decline of Judy Garland has been the subject of stage productions and television dramas many times over the years.

The usual themes of Garland’s drug dependency, depression, and unsuitable husbands are all present and correct in End Of The Rainbow, arriving in Sheffield following a successful West End run.

So how do you do something new with such a familiar tale?

The answer here was to cast Tracie Bennett in the starring role. Her brilliant portrayal of Judy goes beyond mere impersonation in this ‘play with music’.

She completely inhabits the part - strutting across the stage in Garland’s slightly undignified way, emoting wildly and with just the right amount of 40-a-day croakiness in her voice while delivering signature numbers like The Trolley Song or You Made Me Love You.

End Of The Rainbow finds the performer unravelling for the final time in her Ritz hotel room, while just about pulling it together for some of her final shows at London’s Talk of the Town nightclub in 1969.

The dramatic scenes are slightly less successful than the music, but manage to strike a tragic note as we find the desperate addict literally begging her final husband, Mickey Deans, for more pills and booze.

There are historical inaccuracies - the character of Anthony Chapman, her supposed loyal pianist, is entirely fictional. And there’s an over-reliance on camp gags to get laughs too, when Garland herself said she “couldn’t care less” about being a gay icon.

But the main draw here is seeing Bennett belt out the show-stopping tunes - until Saturday.