Judy’s return something to talk about
By Talia Carlisle

Pour the champagne because Judy Garland has come to town.

Peter Quilter’s smash hit show End of the Rainbow opened to loud belly laughs, big smiles and plenty of cheers at the Wellington Opera House this weekend.

While the audience and stars were dressed to impress, the show documented the beloved The Wizard of Oz Star Judy Garland’s less than sparkling turbulence through fame and addiction – all wrapped in a bow of beautiful costumes and spine-tingling songs by a masterful band.

This includes the grandest of grand pianos – with plenty of stage presence given its size- an unfaltering and at times comedic character itself throughout the show’s twists and tantrums.

Ali Harper is sensational in her transformation into the sparkling yet troubled songbird Judy. Ali spans Judy’s repertoire of songs and emotions easily, from beautiful “Blue Skies” to our recognizable highlight of the show – “Over the Rainbow”, which starts with a memorable cello solo by Nathan Parker, and ends with no dry eye in the house.

Ali’s portrayal of Judy is monumentally moving from start to finish. This is emanated through her every sound, twitch, and hair tousle, every word, every kiss, and reaches into every heart in every seat of the Opera House.

Best described by a fellow audience member – Ali “disappears” and in her place Judy is alive before our star-struck eyes. Every joke, every melody and all of her sequined glory absorb the audience’s delight in a vortex of beautiful chaos, that we only have until Sunday to see.

“I can still make you laugh,” Judy says – and she does – letting her quick wit and intelligent comedic references shine throughout the show. No matter her escalating money troubles or romantic spats, she can see life for what it is but chooses to find cause for celebration.

She doesn’t shy away from any opportunity to woo the press or crowd, or a lover – stealing a kiss and even a man’s pants barely 10 seconds into the show.

Ian Harman has to be thanked for the effortlessly chic and sequined costumes that transform Judy into the recognizable and sparkling sensation we know and love. Judy’s colorful character is in stark contrast with the minimal and beautiful set, also designed by Ian.

Ian puts The Ritz into Judy’s glossy hotel room, which magically transforms into the flashy hotel stage for her London performances every night with the most magical of glittering lighting designed by Jeff Hewitt.

Small details give hints as to Judy’s current and past career state, such as the tiniest grand chandelier, and her suitcase packed with towels “to keep up appearances”.

Judy’s sweet and talented piano accompanist, music director and “best friend” Anthony is played by Tom McLeod with charm, humour and unending patience. He sees Judy’s heart, her goodness, her talent and passion and helps us all in the audience to see it too – all while tickling the keys and keeping the band in line as the show’s multi-talented musical director.

Glenn Horfall plays Judy’s long suffering – or long benefitting – fiance Mickey Deans, with all of the charisma, charm and gaiety that Judy is seeking in a companion. Someone to make light of the dark and drug-filled world she has managed to keep hidden behind closed doors, until now.

“I am the luckiest girl alive”, Judy exclaims, just weeks before her untimely death, despite her unease at being so far from home in London, her difficulties sleeping since being force-fed pills as a child actor, and resorting to name calling, swearing and begging for alcohol to feel temporarily “herself”.

Yet, her optimism shines through in the darkest of times – celebrating her London arrival with tap-water instead of champagne and always a trick up her sequined sleeve.

Even when Judy has no energy left to give, she will find herself at her hotel room balcony, to ensure the town, or the tiresome Porter (and Assistant Stage Manager, played by Kevin Orlando) have something to talk about.

As Judy sings her heart and her soul out into the rafters, it’s hard not to believe that we too will find better days ahead, somewhere over the rainbow.

As her final songs steal our hearts, again, and the haze of smoke thins, I wonder if the Judy we knew was just that – all smoke and mirrors.

All I know, is that the real Judy is here, in Wellington, and to miss it would be the greatest tragedy of all.