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Every life is a complicated tapestry of events and people, and few had a more public battle with her demons than Judy Garland.
Peter Quilter’s “End of the Rainbow” shines a light on Garland’s final months, encompassing all the talent, wit and humanity that she brought to everything she did.
The Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Blvd., is hosting the regional premiere of “End of the Rainbow” through April 13. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at 1 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.
“There’s something called ‘factual fiction’ which is when a story is not necessarily true, but it has been told so many times that it begins to be true,” explained director Rod A. Lansberry. “A lot of people know stories about Judy that may or may not be true, and the play itself is an example of factual fiction.”
The story takes place in London in December 1968 and Garland (Tari Kelly) is with her young new fiance Mickey Deans (Zachary Clark) and her devoted pianist Anthony (Jonas Cohen).
Garland is preparing for what she hopes will be a comeback in “The Talk of the Town,” but her past struggles with addiction and relationships still affect everyone around her.
The show features some of Garland’s most famous numbers, including “Come Rain or Come Shine” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Kelly — who was an understudy for Liza Minnelli in “The Boy from Oz” — said that she spent a lot of time watching footage of Garland’s performances and interviews and studying addiction to get in touch with who Garland was.
“Judy wants to be protected, but gets upset with people who try to protect her,” Kelly said. “She managed to stay very funny, and I think this is a true portrayal of a human being. People put her on this pedestal, but I wanted to show someone who dealt with addiction and insecurities.”
According to Clark, the challenge with playing Deans was finding a balance between some of the more unflattering accounts of his relationship with Garland, and Deans autobiography, which paints perhaps too rosy an image of the man.
“He really thinks he knows what he’s doing — that he knows how to fix her and put her back on top,” Clark said. “There are a lot of questions about his motivations, and how much affection he actually has for her.”
As opposed to Garland and Deans, Anthony is a fictional character, a kind of composite of different people from Garland’s life, which in some ways made Cohen’s task of creating a character easier because he didn’t need to match it to a real person.
“He adores Judy and feel very protective of her,” Cohen said. “In a way he’s kind of a representation of a whole community of people who really worship her. However, he gets to see the fragile person beneath.”
Both Kelly and Cohen spoke about how the relationship between artists can meld and grow as they work together, which gives Anthony the ability to speak some truths to Garland that many wouldn’t.
Lansberry, Kelly, Clark and Cohen all spoke about how Garland’s story, especially the one presented in “End of the Rainbow” is a tragically timeless one, a story that people can still see today in the untimely deaths of talents like Edith Piaf, Amy Winehouse or Philip Seymour Hoffman.
“There’s a connection and understanding with the audience,” Lansberry said. “It may not be the Judy that the audience thinks they know, but you’re still drawn in by the empathy and sympathy.”
“And Judy can still break your heart with just a word or a note,” Cohen added.
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