Thursday, July 05, 2012

Should A Legend Be Challenged?

In this day and age of transparency, do we sometimes go too far? That is, do we reveal more than we need to and, in the process, destroy the image we wish to protect?

Case in point: the other night, my wife and I went to see “End of the Rainbow,” the story of the last years of legendary singer, Judy Garland. I have been a Garland fan all my life and so was eager to see this show, which got a super-rave from The New York Times, when it opened a few months ago. My wife, on the other hand, was not a Garland devotee but was happy to accompany me.

While the show lived up to its review and Tracie Bennett, playing Garland, gave one of the most brilliant performances I have ever seen anywhere, it also was one of the most depressing stories I’ve ever sat through. The portrayal of Garland as a pill-popping alcoholic, who was totally out of control the moment she was off-stage, was the dominant portion of the show, and no doubt truthful; it was also illustrated through her bizarre relationships with her fiancé and pianist as well as her body contortions and off-balance behavior in her hotel room during a five-week engagement in London. That said, Garland was able to transform from a somewhat deranged individual into a concert artist who was a magnet for millions, literally in a matter of minutes. Except, according to the show, near the end of her life.

After being totally absorbed in the first act, I said to my wife, as soon as the lights went up, “Well, whaddya think about this?” She said, “l know you are a big Garland fan, but I just don’t like this person on stage. Somehow I feel -- why can’t they let the legend stand? Do we really have to watch the gory details that will destroy the image that has attracted millions for decades?”

Yes, we all know the truth about Garland’s life and how the studios fed her amphetamines to keep her up and working harder, once she became a box office bonanza as a child star. The drug habit was inculcated at an early age. No doubt Liza Minnelli, her daughter, would not have liked to see the alleged truth about her mother portrayed on stage.

Of course, there is another way of looking at it: throw privacy out the window. Understand the real person behind the legend, which is just as important as the legend itself. Facebook has popularized such thinking.

However, for me, when I think about Garland in the future, I will try to forget the woman in “End of the Rainbow” — as gripping as the show was — and think only about the powerful, grand voice and the star who put her whole body into every note.

And thus…her legend will always trump her life.

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