Mina Kaye turns out her finest performance yet as Judy Garland in her final days.
|Category||Score (out of 10)|
|Direction (Tracie Pang)||9|
|Script (Peter Quilter)||8|
|Performance (Mina Kaye, Shane Mardjuki, TJ Taylor, Andrew Marko)||10|
|Set (Eucien Chia)||10|
|Lighting (James Tan)||10|
|Costumes (Leonard Augustine Choo, Ashley Lim, Bobbie Ng)||10|
|Sound (Ctrl Fre@k)||10|
|Live Music (Joel Nah, Brandon Wong, Fabian Lim, Kenneth Lun, Regan Wickman, Rizal Sanip)||10|
Hollywood fame may seem like the dream to members of the public, but amidst all the glitz and glamour is a tragic tale as old as time – hopeful starlets who become a cog in the entertainment machine, beloved by the public but treated like a dance monkey and product to be abused behind closed doors. And among its greatest victims is perhaps the legendary Judy Garland, whose life was cut short at the age of 47, after an accidental barbiturate overdose, and a lifetime of exploitation since her childhood.
Bringing Judy’s tragic story to life is Pangdemonium, with their production of Peter Quilter’s End of the Rainbow. Directed by Tracie Pang, End of the Rainbow takes place in 1968, when Judy played a five-week run of performances at London’s Talk of the Town cabaret club. Meant to be a glorious comeback show after battling messy divorces and several problematic productions, the show’s pressures instead lead to an even greater toll on her mental and physical health, leading to a drug and alcohol-fuelled downward spiral that sees her at her lowest yet.
As a show about Judy Garland, everything hinges on the actress playing her, and to that end, there was perhaps no one more capable or suited than Mina Kaye. Delivering a career-best performance, from the moment she steps onto stage in shades, a headscarf, signature hair, and iconic ruffled blouse and pants, Mina espouses Judy’s diva attitude and her personality fills the room, making it clear that the world can and will revolve around her, and accede to her every demand. Mina has done her due diligence in studying and practicing Judy’s distinctive mannerisms and style of speaking, and it often feels as if she is channeling Judy herself onstage, a whirlwind of mania and anxiety behind the arrogance, wild verve and machine-gun wit.
Starring opposite her are Shane Mardjuki, playing Judy’s latest fiancé and new manager Mickey Deans, and TJ Taylor, playing her pianist and loyal friend Anthony. Both actors turn in strong performances themselves; wearing stylish bell-bottoms and turtlenecks, Shane captures Deans’ roughshod New Jersey accent, and immediately gives off the impression of a slick charmer, while TJ, conversely, uses a more formal, soft-spoken English accent to present his gentler, kinder character.
The two men’s relationships with Judy are key driving forces to the show, and both love Judy, but in very different ways and for polar opposite reasons. Mickey’s face-heel-turn from loving fiancé to desperately pushing drugs onto her shows the shallow, transactional nature of their relationship hingeing on money, while Anthony’s constant care for Judy, whether it’s calming her down and helping her with her makeup, shows the queer perspective of eternal love for Judy as a gay icon and symbol of triumph against the odds. Both Shane and TJ share incredible chemistry with Mina onstage, and respectively feel like a lust-filled 90 day fiancé, and a loyal best friend, able to trade quips and be completely raw and vulnerable with each other, and always a pillar of strength to heal her and shield her from the abuse at the hands of Mickey.
While Peter Quilter’s script does feel long drawn out at times, there is always a forward momentum to the script, with director Tracie Pang navigating most of it adroitly with her staging choices, ensuring that we always feel that Judy is living on borrowed time, and the constant foreshadowing of her death. Throughout the play, the action is kept moving, where even during costume changes, Andrew Marko arrives onstage as a hilarious porter to clean up the room, grab some memorabilia, and does all this with minimal spoken lines, and almost entirely with his facial expressions. Tracie shows her experience and expertise for drama, teasing out the humour and nailing the jokes, before sucker punching with the most emotionally-wrought moments, such as a tension-filled scene where Judy desperately hunts for any and every substance available to stave her addiction.
All eyes are on Mina Kaye of course, and Judy Garland is a prime role to give plenty of opportunity to showcases her acting range, especially when allowing the diva persona to fall away to reveal immense vulnerability. To see such a strong woman fall apart, one cannot help but sympathise with her when high on alcohol, her inability to recall what happened just seconds ago no longer charming but concerning, or how she regresses from messy adult into an almost infantile version of herself, burnt out, sobbing on the floor and begging for love. completely at her wit’s end as to how helpless she is to escape the vicegrip of her own stardom. Mina’s face crumples into a picture of unspoken sadness whenever she allows it to rest, staring wistfully out at the streets, window thrown wide open with audible wind, as if considering to end it all. Or in a particularly devastating scene, we see a fleeting glimmer of hope when Anthony promises to whisk her away from this hell of a life, only to be dashed when she realises it’s all just a fantasy.
Mina’s true star quality fully emerges when she takes to the stage as a singer, and embodies Judy Garland in all her glory. From the endearing performance of ‘The Trolley Song’ to the high-energy, showstopping ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ to the point of exhaustion and collapse, there is an ease and confidence to Mina’s singing that speaks of a seasoned performer, while still capturing Judy’s signature style and movements onstage. There is genuine emotion and power each time she opens her mouth to sing, every note and lyric clear when necessary, and naturally, helped by Leonard Augustine Choo’s costumes. Taking inspiration from Judy Garland herself, Leonard has outdone himself when it comes to dressing Mina for the role, from a luxurious orange silk suit based on a real outfit Judy wore, to even matching the exact bold, floral-print dress worn by Renee Zellweger in the film adaptation. Donning these, Mina practically becomes Judy as she commands the stage, the audience unable to look away, fixated on the sheer talent and star-quality Mina exudes as Judy.
And as with the best Pangdemonium productions, no expense is spared when it comes to the other design elements as well. Longtime collaborator Eucien Chia’s set primarily serves to showcase the swanky hotel suite, complete with expensive-looking drapes, an ivory baby grand piano in the centre, a chaise lounge, and a chandelier, the set large enough to fill the stage yet intimate and private enough to feel every beat and emotion from the actors. Every detail is attended to, from having prop ice filling the drinks on set, to how even the view from the window shifts from day to night, notably with how the lights in buildings ‘opposite’ the room come on when it gets dark, and occasional shadows flitting past.
Most importantly, for all its luxury, the hotel room itself feels like a prison; not only does Judy complain about how ‘small’ it is, she is also almost wholly restricted to room service instead of actually eating out. There are only ever two sets the show flits between, the room or the club, and it feels as if there is nowhere else she is allowed to go except these two locations, with no breaks in between, her life controlled to the point where she is either performing or locked in her room. A simple set change creates a complete transformation of the space, as it reveals the live band behind the walls and takes us straight to the cabaret club, helped by James Tan’s lighting, with dazzling bulbs and coloured lights that make the space come alive during Judy’s numbers.
Judy Garland may not be a household name in Singapore, but there is no need to be a fan beforehand to appreciate the sheer talent the legendary singer held, and to feel the pain of her tragic tale. End of the Rainbow marks a stellar end to Pangdemonium’s 2022 season, using Judy’s story as a warning and pushback against the tyranny of the Hollywood machine, and giving Mina Kaye the platform she deserves to showcase her vocal and acting prowess at its best. As she sings ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ to end the show, the lyrics ‘birds fly over the rainbow/why then, oh, why can’t I?’ ring truer than ever, and we shed a tear for the late legend, immortalised in our memory forevermore.
Photo Credit: Pangdemonium!
End of the Rainbow runs from 7th to 23rd October 2022 at the Drama Centre Theatre. Tickets and more information available here.
Pangdemonium’s 2023 Season Ticket is now available for purchase. More details and tickets available here
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