INTERVIEW: Tracie Bennett Reaches The End of the Rainbow
The award-winning actress discusses her role as Judy Garland in Peter Quilter's new Broadway play.
THEATERMANIA: How did this show come about for you?
TRACIE BENNETT: I remember starting it all off in a little pub in Hampstead in the UK and struggling with just a piano and the song choices. And now we are on Broadway in this beautiful theater, The Belasco, with a great production team and crew and band. Of course, this is all due to Lee Dan for buying the rights for me, to Terry Johnson for directing us with his genius detail, to our wonderful producers, and especially to Peter Quilter, the writer. Bless him for allowing us to fiddle with his scenes and add or take away some of his words!
TM: How has it been working with an American cast?
TB: This cast has been amazing. We are now all a little bit in love with each other, having first totally bonded at the Guthrie Theatre, where we did the play before we moved to Broadway. They were all "off book" pretty much on the first day of rehearsal and have brought total commitment and their own decisions about their characters to the floor, which I had to willingly adapt to.
TM: How are they different from the actors you worked with in England?
TB: It's been interesting to listen and react to Michael Cumpsty as Anthony; he is totally solid in his politics and in the way he wanted to portray Anthony. Tom Pelphrey is from New Jersey, where Mickey Deans was from, so it's been a joy to get the real deal. And Jay Russell, our other cast member, plays three small characters with aplomb and clarity. While I get to do all the ranting and singing and play the whole gamut of emotions, their support is invaluable and therefore it feels like a total ensemble piece. They have all raised my ballgame as an actress and a person. I can't quite believe how well this has all turned out.
TM: What do you think of Judy's relationship with Anthony?
TB: Anthony is kind and receptive and sensitive to her needs as an artist and woman. He wants her to be safe and looked after in a true sense. He represents a world of friendship and companionship in a platonic way, which we know is what Judy wanted all her life -- to love and be loved. But maybe she crossed the line at some point of highs and lows and pills and all the erratic things that make people like Judy become bored of being with someone like that. He maybe wouldn't have been exciting enough for her. That said, Anthony has his own reasons for wanting to "save" Judy and is in a little bit of denial about the truth of Judy's situation and her need for a male protector who she was highly sexually attracted to.
TM: Mickey was her fifth -- and final -- husband, but a lot of people don't know much about him. What do we learn about their relationship?
TB: Mickey Deans was a man Judy met in the club Arthur's in New York, and they used to meet up after her concerts and talk all through the night and laugh a lot together. He also provided her with pills when she wanted them and he generally took care of her as such, on and off, for three years. I think he loves Judy, but realized when he came to London, to sort out the "Talk Of The Town" concerts for her as her new manager, that he was probably out of his depth with how to deal with her addiction on the level it had become. He tried to wean her off the pills and control her drinking and partying ways in order to get her looking her best and to get her to perform at her best, to no avail. I really don't think he knew what he was getting into.
TB: In the play, he decides he should get her back on stage to perform. He says he has his "reputation as a manager" to uphold. And he realizes he can't stop her from taking the pills, since otherwise she just won't go on, and they will lose a lot of money and he will lose face. It's also been documented that he tried to close a deal that would turn movie theatres all over America into The Judy Garland Theatres. So it suited him to be with her at that point. Rather than be her protector, it turns out he was protecting himself.