Meeting Tracie Bennett, the live-wire actor playing Judy Garland in the Guthrie's production of Peter Quilter's End of the Rainbow," was quite an experience.
The show, which opens Friday, rests squarely on her shoulders, as she propels the cast through the at times hilarious, but ultimately tragic story of a concert series Garland played in London just three months before her untimely death from an overdose at age 47. The show moves between the hotel room she shares with her new fiance Mickey Deans, and the Talk of the Town Theater, where shows can be a triumph one night, and a humiliating disaster the next.
It's a complex story and Bennett compared playing the role to riding a stallion. She has been on that ride for over a year now: first in the Olivier-nominated run on London's West End, followed by a UK tour. Now she is in Minneapolis with a new cast, and a new band, preparing for a move to Broadway.
Sitting in her dressing room, she apologized for the heady perfume in the air. She had dropped a full bottle of her favorite fragrance a couple of nights before and it may linger there a long time she laughed.
We then turned to what it takes to play a role where she is on-stage for almost the whole show, and has to hurtle from highs to lows in moments, while belting out showtunes in between.
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"The pressure for me here is I am aware I am a Brit playing a legend from America," she said bursting into a throaty laugh. "And if i thought about that I probably wouldn't go out on stage."
She launched into how she changed her diet to help her concentrate: salmon, broccoli, and spinach. "I'm like Popeye," she chuckled in her Lancashire accent.
She says she and the new cast are fine-tuning their interactions, working to get just the right balance as Garland, Deans, and Anthony, the music director for the Talk of the Town shows, struggle and fight their way the concert run.
She wants audiences to like the piece
"I want them to understand how difficult it is (for performers) in the hotel rooms, because you don't usually see people talking in hotel rooms about how difficult it is to go onstage."
She says a lot of the success of the show comes down to taking responsibility for her role in the show: taking responsibility for herself, for the other cast members, for the show itself. She says it starts with the material, can go through her special concentrations diet, and then extend everywhere.
"You have to watch your every move - crossing the road!" she says, admitting she nearly got run over Tuesday night after the evening's preview. "Because I was going through the lines, going home after the play, in my head. I was doing a speech in my head, going 'I really must sort that out' and 'blah-de-blah-de-blah' And I just kind of crossed - you don't hear cars here, they are so quiet! It must be the speed or something, or the snow. And I just didn't look in time."
She says she actually looked the wrong way, as she still hasn't become accustomed to cars that drive on the right side of the road. She heard a noise and turned to find herself face to face with a truck which had stopped just before hitting her. Luckily the driver had been watching out and see her.
"And it was right here," she said, putting her hand two inches from my face. "And I could have been run over."
"You have to think about getting out of the bath and not slipping," she continued. "Stupid things that I would never think of before. You have to watch your every move."
Given I had been in that preview and was realizing how close we all came to having seen the FINAL show of "End of the Rainbow," but for the fast reactions of an unknown truckdriver, this made an impression.