Even the words “definitive” and “tour de force” seem inadequate to describe Angela Ingersoll’s astonishing transformation into Judy Garland in End Of The Rainbow, Peter Quilter’s powerful, probing examination of the last months Judy’s not-so-storybook life, superbly directed by Michael Matthews for La Mirada Theatre and McCoy Rigby Entertainment.

The facts behind Judy Garland’s death on June 22, 1969 are a matter of public record. Several months after a five-week stint at London’s trendy Talk of the Town, the legendary screen/recording star was found dead at the age of 47 by fifth husband Mickey Deans in the bathroom of their rented Chelsea house, the cause of death “an incautious self-overdosage” of barbiturates.

Quilter’s critically acclaimed play with music lets us be flies on the walls of Judy and Mickey’s London hotel (and of the London nightclub as well) during that much talked about Talk Of The Town run, one during which we witness Judy’s gradual but inexorable decline from the drug-and-alcohol-free woman who arrives in London head-over-heels in love with a much younger fiancé and ready to prove herself a force still to be reckoned with to the pills-and-booze-filled hot mess of her final London days.

Few roles are as tough to cast as Judy, since not only must an actress look enough like the superstar to pass the sight test, both her speaking voice and vocals must be dead-enough ringers to convince audiences that it’s Judy herself we’re hearing belt out “Just In Time,” “The Trolley Song,” “Get Happy,” “Over The Rainbow,” “The Man That Got Away,” and more.

In addition, Quilter’s script requires an actress who can take us from optimistic excitement at a career and love life once again rising like a phoenix from the ashes and heartrending desperation at the seeming impossibility of ever achieving the professional and personal fulfillment she so desperately craves.

It takes only seconds into the show to see why director Matthews ended up casting out of Chicago. Besides nabbing a prestigious Jeff Award nomination last year for her End Of The Rainbow star turn, Ingersoll’s one-woman concert Judy Garland: Come Rain Or Come Shine is set for PBS broadcast next year.

Not only are Ingersoll’s vocals the real deal, in Bill Morey’s size-2 costumes and a short bouffant do like Judy wore on her 1960s CBS variety hour, Ingersoll passes the sight test with flying colors and her Judy voice and mannerisms are equally spot-on.

All that being said, what ultimately sets Ingersoll’s star turn apart from the rest are acting chops that give audiences a Judy who charms, who exasperates, who delights, who rages, who yearns, who attacks, who crumples, who mesmerizes, and who breaks your heart again and again.

Zachary Ford’s revelatory Mickey has one of SoCal’s premier musical theater leading men singing not a note (a first for this reviewer) but with his tousled curls, working class accent, and macho charm, making the man so downright irresistible, it’s no wonder Judy fell head over heels. (As to whether Ford’s Mickey is angel or devil, I’ll let you be the judge.)

A terrific Jon Steinhagen joins Ingersoll from Chicago as Judy accompanist-best friend Anthony, a stand-in for every gay man who has ever loved Judy from afar, and Brian Wallace aces three distinctive cameos as a radio interviewer, porter, and assistant stage manager.

Musical director Steinhagen not only tickles the ivories but conducts a sensational live band* that just might appear out of nowhere on scenic designer Stephen Gifford’s elegant, chameleonlike hotel suite set, meticulously appointed by properties designer Terry Hanrahan and gorgeously lit by Steven Young, with sound designer Josh Bessom amplifying voices to reach balcony back rows.

John W. Calder, III is production stage manager and Lisa Palmire is assistant stage manager. Michael Roman is technical director. Wallace’s wigs by Byron Batista. Casting is by Julia Flores.

We may never know exactly what happened behind closed doors during Judy Garland’s five-week stint at Talk Of The Town, but Peter Quilter’s End Of The Rainbow does a darned good job of imagining it, and with the extraordinary Angela Ingersoll as Judy, audiences will have more than enough reason to stand up and cheer.

*Adam Alesi, Duane Benjamin, Gene Burkert, John Hart, and Aaron Smith

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La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Boulevard, La Mirada.

–Steven Stanley
November 4, 2017
Photos: Jason Niedle


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