by Nathan Top
Is it more important to be loved for who you are or who you want to be seen as? In The Carnegie’s impactful musical drama production “End of the Rainbow,” three characters explore themes of fame, finances, and public image.
The story begins just a few months prior to Judy Garland’s death during her stay in London. Determined to return to her former stardom altitude, Garland embarks on a five-week engagement at the nightclub The Talk of the Town, with the assistance of her fiance’/manager Mickey Deans and her accompanist Anthony. The task proves to be more challenging as Judy copes with her long-time patterns of substance abuse.
This is not a light, breezy musical. Reminiscent of mid-2000 biopics such as Ray (acclaimed musician struggling with substance abuse) or Walk the Line (acclaimed musician struggling with… substance abuse), the show is more of a play with music, a searing drama about a singer who is willing to give anything and everything they have to feel loved. The musical numbers (“Just in Time,” “The Trolley Song,” “Over the Rainbow”) feel like floaty etudes amidst the story, reminding the audience (and the characters) why Judy Garland was a star. The production, directed by Alice Flanders, feels open yet intimate, transparent and personal.
The cast eaks every last ounce of character from the loquacious script, written by Peter Quilter. The play is a character-driven study of the late Judy Garland and the chemistry between the three leads is palpable and suitably painful.
Leading the cast as Judy Garland is Kim Schroeder Long, who has incredible singing and acting chops required to play the demanding role. The musical numbers seem effortless and engaging, capturing the nuances of a star basically having a breakdown with a show that must go on. Kim is able to capture all the humorous yet heartbreaking ironies of the character with grace and her voice acting is almost distractingly accurate and focused.
The two male co-stars are as vibrant as the leading lady. Dylan Shelton plays Judy’s fifth husband-to-be Mickey Dean. Shelton walks a tightrope of a character balancing what is best for Judy and what is best for his own financial interests. Mickey Dean becomes a character we love to hate and Dylan portrays him with empathy and strength through the show.
Aaron Whitehead plays Anthony, Judy’s pianist and friend. Justifiably the most likable character in the show, Whitehead brings moving amounts depth to the character, a gay man who is able to love and support Judy in ways that she cannot love and support herself. The relationship between Anthony and Judy is the most compelling relationship of the show and the two actors build this relationship until the finale when they subtly break the heart of the audience.
The show runs about two and a half hours long so pack some lawn chairs and snacks. “End of the Rainbow” is a unique and impactful show that is not to be missed, running now through September 19th. Tickets can be purchased here.
Nathan Top is a Cincinnati-based playwright and musician. Nathan works as a freelance trumpeter and pianist, performing in big bands, pit orchestras, and pop groups throughout Cincinnati, and is a graduate of