Conceived by Tina Marie Cassamento Libby, the play tells the story of Judy Garland’s early life, up to her casting as Dorothy. As befits its setting in the age of Busby Berkeley’s Depression-chasing Hollywood spectaculars, the show boasts a cast of 40+ (some playing more than one role), lavish Hollywood set pieces (including an antique car that rolls like a golf cart), fabulous costumes, full-stage dance numbers, and dozens of songs by the the likes of Hoagy Carmichael, Jimmy McHugh, and, of course, Harold Arlen.
To my mind, the greatest virtue of Chasing Rainbows is the way its creative team foregrounds the music of the era. Like my show, Ariel’ s Way, Chasing Rainbows does not anachronistically impose twenty-first century musical styles on a story set in another era. The musical arrangements (by David Libby), the choreography (by Jeff Whiting), and many of the show’s vocal performances convincingly convey the spirit of swing. Chasing Rainbows compellingly presents the 1930s as the cultural period that not only nurtured the life of Judy Garland (and sowed the seeds of her early demise), but also laid the foundation of American musical theater as we know it today.
|Ruby Rakos as "Baby" Gumm (Judy Garland)|
The leading actors in Chasing Rainbows are excellent, as are their voices. Young Ruby Rakos portrays “Baby” Gumm with appropriate vocal power; she also embodies the awkwardness, complexity, and naturalness that made “Judy” immortal. Equally appealing is Ben Crawford as Judy’s dad (Frank Gumm). Crawford’s portrayal of a loving dad, who struggles with his domineering wife and his own homoerotic inclinations, is touching and tragic. Mike Wartella also stands out as a young, energetic, and multi-talented Mickey Rooney.
Chasing Rainbows rests on a theatrical concept that offers no shortage of spectacle and wisely strives for intergenerational appeal. Marc Acito’s script has lots of ground to cover, but its flashes of wit and humor add pace, as does Whiting’s competent, frequently clever direction. The show runs long for my taste, and some of the songs (from the Sony-ATV catalog) are not the shiniest gems of the Swing Era. However, Arlen and Harburg’s “Over the Rainbow” indubitably is a gem—and it’s beautifully arranged by Libby (and staged by Whiting) as the long-anticipated exclamation point towards which the show naturally builds.
The Flat Rock Playhouse is a splendid setting for Chasing Rainbows. The facility and professional staff appear to offer everything this production needs to grow into its final form. Flat Rock’s Artistic Director (Lisa K. Bryant), Technical Director (Tony Lawrence), and Head of Audio (Kurt Conway), are especially to be commended. I hope that the Rainbows creative team, production staff, and cast—in addition to its investors—all find a pot of gold at the end of their run!