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End of the Rainbow
by Anthony Chase
Judy at the Kavinoky
In End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter, opening this weekend at the Kavinoky Theatre, actress Natasha Drena will portray the great Judy Garland. She’s played the role twice before, in Atlanta and in Highlands, North Carolina, and has also taken on the Garland persona in another stage play, Beyond the Rainbow.
The setting is London in the winter of 1968 as Garland prepares for a run at the “Talk of the Town” nightclub, just months before her death. We meet a complex woman, feisty and full of a zest for life, but unable to shake the demons that torment her, including a litany of addictions. The action alternates between her suite at the Ritz Hotel and the nightclub stage. Throughout the evening, her handlers, including the last of her five husbands, Mickey Deans, try to steer her clear of pills and public misbehavior.
Prepare to be both thrilled and throttled emotionally. Thus is the complexity of Judy Garland, one of the most talented and iconic American entertainers who ever lived.
This role requires Ms. Drena to perform numerous Garland standards and to channel the Garland persona through frantic twists and turns, from a soulful “The Man that Got Away” to a manic “Come Rain or Come Shine.” Expect the requisite frenetic energy, the signature poses, the arching of the back and the reach for the sky. The real test for the actor will be her ability to meld all of these contrasts into one unified and compelling human being.
By all reports, Ms. Drena has got the stuff.
“I never tire of playing the part,” she says. “I was worried about coming to Buffalo and doing the show for a third time, but it is entirely fresh again. I think part of that is the Buffalo cast, [Chris Hatch, Greg Gjurich, and David Lundy], who are wonderful and give me something entirely fresh to work with. Also, when I first did the role, I had to build the character so quickly. Working with [director] Lisa [Ludwig] has given me a chance to really finesse the role in a way I didn’t have time to do before.”
Drena reveals that playing an icon presented particular acting challenges.
“Typically,” she says, “an actor works from the inside out. You find the truth within you, and you bring that to the role. But Judy Garland is so familiar to the audience, I found that I needed to start from the outside and discover her physicality and her voice. Luckily, my first director had experience playing another American icon on stage, Tennessee Williams, and he was able to guide me through that process. YouTube became my best friend. There is new footage of Judy emerging all the time, and I watched every interview, every movie, and every performance. I read every biography. I listened to every recording. After that I worked to find the inner truth of the woman and was able to trust my own instincts.”
Originally from San Francisco, Drena studied at NYU and at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City. She makes her home in Savannah, Georgia. She reveals that she has been fascinated by Judy Garland since she was eight years old.
“I sang ‘Over the Rainbow’ as my audition for my first voice teacher,” she confides.
Drena finds that she is not alone in her affection for a star who died nearly 47 years ago, but like Bette Davis or Mae West continues to be imitated and adored.
“People come up to me and want to share their Judy Garland story,” she says. “They want to talk about what Judy meant to them. I’ve met people who saw her on stage. I met someone who accompanied her on the piano. And then I also meet people who say, ‘I always wished that I could have seen Judy Garland perform in person, and now I feel, through you, that I have.’ That is very lovely!”
End of the Rainbow, starring Natasha Drena as Judy Garland, and directed by Lisa Ludwig, opens on January 8 and runs through January 31, at the Kavinoky Theatre. For tickets, call (716) 829-7668 or visit kavinokytheatre.com.blog comments powered by Disqus
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