Amy Winehouse died in 2011. By many accounts the winner of five Grammy Awards, who battled addictions for years, drank herself to death. All the warnings and rehab attempts in the world did nothing to change this.
Kenn McLaughlin, artistic director of Stages Repertory Theatre, is hoping that fans of Winehouse will be interested in Stages' next production — End of the Rainbow — which tells a similar story of an award-winning singer with a great voice who was unable to master her addictions.
That person, of course, is Judy Garland, who died in 1969 from an overdose of barbiturates. End of the Rainbow focuses on the last six weeks of her life, showing the singer battling her addictions and still managing to get on stage and sing.
McLaughlin says he never really knew much about Garland other than by reputation, but when he read the script for End of the Rainbow and listened to recordings of her performances at the end of her life, he came away with an entirely different understanding.
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“I was just so moved by the contrast between what we know of Judy's last year of her life, certainly what the public record tells us in terms of her addictions and her illnesses, in contrast to her capacity to continue to deliver performances to my mind of an extraordinary caliber. The instrument was damaged but it was still capable of doing a great many things. More than that, it was her capacity to connect to a song.”
Of course, putting on a show like that, which depends on an actress capable of singing Garland’s songs, is tough. “I had to put it aside,” McLaughlin says. But one day, while rehearsing for one of the Panto shows at Stages, Carolyn Johnson was goofing around and ran through a Garland song. McLaughlin knew he had his Judy. (Evidence of Johnson’s singing ability: She had to take a week off from rehearsal to sing the opera A Coffin in Egypt at the Lincoln Center.)
Three other actors round out the cast of the two-act play. “It’s a very intense drama with musical interludes,” McLaughlin says. “There are moments of great comedy; Judy was an incredible wit. And then the sadness of her addiction and what that wrought. This is a woman who was very,very vulnerable onstage. You can perhaps see the whole and the soul of this artist.”
End of the Rainbow runs March 2 through April 10 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3210 Allen Parkway. For information, call 713-527-0123 or visit stagestheatre.com. $21-$49.