OVER THE RAINBOW AND HOW
It’s hard enough playing away from home let alone winning. Yet it looks as though she’s done it – well, she most certainly has done it as far as the critics and the audiences go because from all accounts Tracie Bennett has knocked ‘em dead on Broadway and that is a very mighty thing indeed - because not only has another British theatrical import hit the heights in the U.S.A. but it has defied all odds by having Judy Garland, one of America’s greatest show business icons, played by a Limey. Quite understandably the Americans don’t take too kindly to attempts by aliens to portray their national idols; we’d feel quite the same if some dam’ Yankee came over here with a show about one of our stars – although I’m having a little trouble here thinking up a good comparison. Do we have a British Judy Garland? I don’t we have anyone alive or dead to match Miss Garland – do we? Try and imagine a musical say about the trials and tribulations of Elaine Page played by Jennifer Aniston, or the life and times of Cilla Black played by Meryl Streep and you’ll get my thinking. Yet this month the doors of Broadway burst open, in stormed Miss Bennett as the ailing Miss Garland and in one electrifying moment another splash of theatrical history was made. The audience were on their feet whooping and a-hollering as they saw another star being born and now the Great White Way belongs to the iridescent talent of Miss Tracie Bennett.
Nothing good ever comes easy and as anyone who has seen Tracie Bennett’s incredible performance will attest this was one of the hardest asks you may ever see an actor try and answer. And that was just here in familiar old England. To go and try and conquer America is a totally different matter. Furthermore there was little on her side. End of the Rainbow is no lavish audience blinding production with a big busy-busy cast and a stonking great band to blind you with stunning set piece numbers and a fat and noisy sound; it has no smoke and no mirrors - this is a show with a cast of just four – that’s right - four – one and a half sets and a six piece on stage band. Nor here in London did it play in one of the big and fashionable theatres. Instead the cast and the show made themselves known to those of us lucky enough to catch them in a limited run at the Trafalgar Studios and then in a brief regional tour. Hardly the stuff of potential legend I think you’ll agree. Yet because of the huge reputation this little show earned in only a few weeks, the devotion of its newly won fan base, and the unstinting support and belief of its management - EOTR made it across the pond, got itself a new cast and band – besides the leading lady, natch – ran itself in down in Baltimore finally to open to a thousand huzzahs on a star studded night at the Belasco Theatre on West 44 Street.
I don’t know how tough it was out there on the road in Baltimore but I do know that in spite of the standing ovations Tracie and her fellow actors and musicians earned nightly there were plenty of side line sourpusses all too ready and eager to have a go and She Who Dares Play Judy. But then show business wouldn’t be show business with the snipers. Battles take place under fire and happily this one was over after a few short and badly aimed volleys, so much so that Baltimore audiences demanded Tracie take an encore every night. Even so, out of town is still only out of town, and Tracie was out of town on her own, the show and the band having been recast totally with all American performers. I understand the new cast and musicians have been and still are terrific both in their playing and their support of the interloper but Tracie was still out there on her own and playing far, far away from home. To do that you have to have a lot of courage, a lot of self-belief, and a lot of love and I imagine Miss Bennett to be blessed with all of that. I bet she has one heck of a mum. Probably sisters, too.
Now I see there’s a lot of hot stuff on Broadway at the moment, yet I doubt if there is a performance quite able to match Tracie’s astonishing tour de force – certainly not in a musical which is why everyone is saying she’s a shoe-in for a Tony. No such thing as a racing certainty of course, nor is there any matter if she doesn’t win a Tony because as I have said before in a way she doesn’t need to. Tracie’s done it. Tracie Bennett does it every night to a standing ovation and while some can say the Americans do more standing ovations than anyone else yes they do – but they also turn down their thumbs, put their noses up in the air and make raspberry noises with their tongues quicker than anyone else, too. They might love and worship success Stateside but that is only because they so dreadfully fear failure. You do it wrong over there and you are not forgiven – but not Tracie. Tracie Bennett has done it right and she has done it so very right the Americans have taken her to their hearts and now Miss Bennett has surely found her own pot of gold that lies at the foot of her very special rainbow. Who cares about Tony? Tracie Bennett’s talent is her award and our reward is having been lucky enough to witness it.