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New Play Looks At Judy Garland's Tragic Life

New Play Looks At Judy Garland's Tragic Life
New Play Looks At Judy Garland’s Tragic Life
Intrepid Theatre Company is staging "End of the Rainbow," a play (with music) about the last six weeks of Judy Garland's life.

A small group of actors are working away in a strip mall in North San Diego County. Underneath florescent lights, in a nondescript room, they're bringing the tragic, often explosive world of Judy Garland to life.

Intrepid Theatre Company is weeks away from staging Peter Quilter's award-winning play, "End of the Rainbow," which is about the last six weeks of Garland's life. It's a play with concert music and showcases Garland's volatile temper, caustic wit and immense talent.

"Every day that I approach her, I feel like I’m diving into the deep end and I just have to figure it out," said Eileen Bowman, who's taking on the role of Garland.


She said it’s the biggest challenge of her career because she personally is so different from Garland.

"She lives in a very high drama, she loves drama," Bowman said. "I don’t do that as Eileen. I don’t want to do that."

Long before "The Wizard of Oz," "Meet Me in St. Louis," or "Easter Parade," Garland was given pills to sleep, to wake up and to lose weight. This continued throughout her years with MGM studio, as doctors on set prescribed her pills to keep up with the grueling hours. She fought addiction her whole life. She married five times, spent time in psychiatric hospitals and died at 47.

"This story is really up front and honest about who she is as a person, not just as a performer," said Christy Yael-Cox, who is directing "End of the Rainbow." "It tells her story from a place of compassion, but tells it honestly."

The play shifts between Garland’s life and concert performances at the Talk of the Town nightclub in London. It's not a musical, but a play with music.


Bowman said her singing voice is very different than Garland’s.

"I went on YouTube and searched 'How to sing like Judy Garland,' and couldn't find any," Bowman said. "There are drag queens that do it beautifully, so I watched them."

The accomplished actor and singer is learning to lower her voice to match Garland’s.

"She would close her mouth on her M’s and N’s. I never do that. I sing higher," Bowman said.

Chris O’Bryon is the play’s music director. He also has a role as Antony, Garland’s pianist and friend. O’Bryon said Judy Garland was exceptional with lyrics and using her voice to fill them with emotion.

"I think in her situation, there was a large gap between what she thought and what the world actually was," O'Bryon said. "And a lot of times the truthfulness of the pain in the lyric, the dreaming of the future, the hopes, the fears, the things that we all deal with, she was really good at discussing that from a musical standpoint."

Bowman is also learning how to hold her body differently when she performs. Garland was a ball of tension, and that informed the way she moved on stage.

The team has also spent a lot of rehearsal time discussing drugs and how an addict would behave on them.

"What will it do to you if you’ve taken a pill at 2 p.m., what will you be like at 5 p.m.? It has to be very precise," Bowman said.

She’s been searching her life for experiences that simulate addiction.

"I reach back to something that made me feel on edge and hopefully that will suffice in the scene," Bowman said.

Of course, Garland’s most famous song, "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," is in the play. We’ve all heard it so many times that it’s hard to hear with fresh ears. But Yael-Cox said, put in the context of Garland’s life, the song has even more power and pathos.

"She was so careful with that song. She had a great understanding for what the song did for her and her career," Yael-Cox said. "She was careful never to mock it or make fun of it. And it meant the world to her. She cherished the song."

"End of the Rainbow" opens on Nov. 6. Intrepid Theatre Company will perform it at the Lyceum Theater in downtown San Diego.