What: Tracie Bennett Sings Judy: Songs from the Broadway Production of End of the Rainbow
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The theatrical subgenre of celebrity impersonation has always been an odd duck. It’s easy to do badly, damned difficult to do well, and gets the impersonator little respect in any case. In fact, duplicating a performer’s on-stage persona in a way that will allow audience members to suspend disbelief and react as they would to the original is quite a challenge, especially when the performer in question is well represented on audio and film/video.
Judging from the praise she has received for her performance as the late Judy Garland in Peter Quilter’s play with music The End of the Rainbow, Tracie Bennett has risen to the challenge. In the New York Times, Ben Brantley praised her “electrifying interpretation”. The Huffington Post’s Mark Kennedy) said she was “so stunning that she manages to raise the dead”. Others have had similar praise for her performance even when they have found the play itself a bit monochromatic.
I haven’t seen the show, but judging from the original cast recording now available on Masterworks Broadway, Ms. Bennett has eerily captured not just the sound of Garland, but more specifically the sound of Garland towards the end of her career, when drugs and drink were taking their toll. To quote the Times again:
“In her terrifyingly manic, Ritalin-fueled “Come Rain or Come Shine” you hear not only the music but the rage that produces it.”
You don’t really hear that in Garland’s recordings from the period, in my view. But then, this isn’t an attempt to duplicate those recordings. It’s a look (albeit fictionalized) at the pain they masked. And on that level I think it works perhaps a little too well. At times, it’s difficult to listen to—not because Ms. Bennett has done her work poorly but rather because she has done it so very well.
The album consists of songs from the Broadway production of the play, fleshed out with new recordings by Bennett and members of the on-stage band of Garland classics not in the stage version, including “Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart”, “San Francisco” and “When The Sun Comes Out” (full track list below). If you’re a Garland fan you’ll probably want to add this to your collection; ditto if you have seen and enjoyed the show. For the rest of us it’s an interesting curiosity. The CD is available from the usual music outlets. You can also purchase the MP3 version at iTunes.
- I Can't Give You Anything But Love/Just In Time (Dorothy Fields, Jule Styne, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Jimmy McHugh)
- I Could Go On Singing (E.Y. Harburg, Harold Arlen)
- Smile (Charles Chaplin, John Turner, Geoffrey Parsons)
- Medley: The Bells Are Ringing For Me And My Gal/You Made Me Love You/The Trolley Song (Joseph McCarthy, Ray Goetz, Hugh Martin, George Meyer, Edgar Leslie, Ralph Blane, James V. Monaco)
- Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart (James Hanley)
- The Man That Got Away (Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen)
- Come Rain Or Come Shine (Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen)
- When You're Smiling (Mark Fisher, Joe Goodwin, Larry Shay)
- Somewhere Over The Rainbow (E.Y. Harburg, Harold Arlen)
- San Francisco (Walter Jurmann, Gus Kahn, Bronislaw Kaper)
- When The Sun Comes Out (Ted Koehler, Harold Arlen)
- Get Happy/By Myself (Ted Koehler, Arthur Schwartz, Howard Dietz, Harold Arlen)