The new musical Chasing Rainbows: The Road To Oz opened at Paper Mill Playhouse on Sunday, October 6th 2019. The show is running on a limited engagement through October 27th. Chasing Rainbows: The Road To Oz is the story of Judy Garland's (Francis Gumm) life from child vaudeville star to rising MGM superstar and the triumph and tribulations she faced on her road to Oz. The show ends with her being cast in The Wizard of Oz and getting to play the dream role of Dorothy Gale, which we come to find out that the end of the rainbow may not have been as happy as it seemed.
The show is triumphantly fun but also beautifully tragic. It was beautiful to watch a young Francis Gumm grow and have this powerful gift that was her voice. It was also very hard to watch as this beautiful girl who was torn down and ripped apart constantly from an industry that wanted her to be something that she wasn't. From the jabs about her weight, her nose, her face, her looks it was all a tough pill to swallow for an audience on the outside looking in- but one can't even imagine what it did to her.
We knew what is in store and what her life was like, this is no surprise to anyone. But it begs you to wonder--If the studios and her mother were not so hard on her and didn't bully her, would she have gone down the spiraling path she ended up on? In many ways, you can blame it on several things including her childhood and her overbearing mother who always criticized her, LB Mayer and the studio world that was so toxic and the doctors who kept giving her pills. All in the name of what? It is sickening to see what they use to be able to get away with.
Now all of this can't be said without talking about the cast, specifically the lead of it all, Judy Garland herself Ruby Rakos. What to say about Ruby Rakos- not only does she look strikingly like a young Garland herself but she has that big voice that rings to the rafters. She has some killer chops!
Lesli Margherita is fittingly perfect in the role of Ethel Gumm. Bringing her loud personality and acting chops she embodies the overbearing stage mother as good as you would think. Her bravado voice and way of acting the role is perfect. She really gives you a glimpse at how painful it was to be Judy and have a mother like her.
Max von Essen who plays Frank Gumm is also a standout. With a complicated life and a hidden and suppressed secret of his homosexuality, Frank struggles with this and being a loving husband and father. You can see through Von Essen's performance just how close Frank and Judy were and how much she looked up to and loved him. It was tough to see Frank struggle with his sexuality, and at a time in this country in the 1920s and '30s where that was looked down upon it was exceedingly hard for him.
I still to this day do wonder what Judy Garland would have been like if she had not died in 1969 and had gotten clean. The mind wanders-- Judy back at The Palace? Judy and Liza? Judy, Lorna and Liza? Judy and Barabara? The possibilities of what could have been goes on and on. I think she would be a staunch supporter of gay rights too if she were still here, considering that does make up most of her fan base. (As a gay man I can attest to this!)
One thing is for certain, as we get ready to close out what has been the 50th anniversary of her untimely death is that she is gone but never forgotten. Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz runs at Paper Mill Playhouse through Sunday October, 27th, for tickets visit papermill.org