There's a pot of gold at the Assembly Hall where Caroline O'Connor is capturing the anguished artistry of Judy Garland to perfection. She gets under the skin of the disturbed diva, conveying her petulance and vulnerability but, most of all, her desperation at being trapped in a showbiz void, unable to attain happiness.
O'Connor's singing is sensational, too, from the moment she steps out from under the arc of coloured lights until the final, aching rendering of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". She offers a compelling portrait of the lonely and exploited star, rocketing down to a drug-dependent hell. It's not so much the colours of the rainbow that light up Peter Quilter's moving yet often funny musical, as the deep, dark cracks between them.
The year is 1968, the setting the Ritz. Garland has been persuaded by her fiancé manager, Mickey Deans, a robust charmer played by Michael Cormick, to attempt a comeback with a six-week booking at London's Talk of the Town nightclub. In keeping with Garland's iconic status with gay men, her pianist (played by Anthony Chapman), is a besotted "friend of Dorothy". But as the run gets under way - cue some great Garland numbers - Garland loses the battle with her inner demons.
Even when slurring her words, forgetting her lines and behaving atrociously, Garland held audiences captive. O'Connor's electrifying performance has a similar mesmerising quality.
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