Curtain Call: Chasing Rainbows leads to Garland’s pot of gold

Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam: Frances Gumm, aka Judy Garland, didn’t exactly skip her way down the Yellow Brick Road and Over the Rainbow to her pot of gold. In the new musical Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz, conceived by Tina Marie Casamento Libby with book by Marc Acito and musical adaptation by David Libby, the hardships of the depression forced Garland and family down many a rough and rugged road before fame finally wiggled its fickle finger Judy’s way.

The action is set between the years 1928 and 1938, when everyone who knew Frances, knew she had a big voice for a kid and a special talent. Hollywood was knocking out some big stars under MGM’s L.B. Mayer including the likes of Shirley Temple, Clark Gable, and Lana Turner, but he didn’t much care for the “fat” little girl named Gumm. Mayer’s right-hand assistant, however, saw the potential and guided Mayer and Gumm-renamed-Garland in the direction of Oz.

The Goodspeed Musicals’ production is so good because of the phenomenal talent. Ruby Rakos as Frances Gumm/Judy Garland is quite a powerhouse. She sings beautifully, but when she sings you feel the heart she puts into each song. It’s quite a memorable performance. Kevin Earley, who plays the star’s father Frank Gumm, has a great big rolling voice that resonates somewhere between your mind and heart. Michael Wartella as a young Mickey Rooney also dazzles the packed  audience. He’s lightning fast when he dances, sings rousing numbers and exudes fun. Sally Wilfert, Karen Mason, and the rest of the cast deliver knock-out performances.

Director Tyne Rafaeli’s penchant for creating a smooth pace works especially well, while Michael O’Flaherty’s music direction never sounds as rusty as a Tin Man and Chris Bailey’s choreography would have a Scarecrow spinning. Kristien Robinson’s set is rather non-descript with props cleverly helping to create split-second scene changes on the small set. The action takes place pre-Oz, so don’t expect to find a yellow brick road. Elizabeth Caitlin Ward’s costumes are character appropriate, especially Shirley Temple’s pink puff of fluff and the slinky sexy gowns of Hollywood party-goers.

Overall,this production won over the audience on opening night, which gave the cast a standing ovation. The musical succeeds in giving details of Garland’s young life from her days in vaudeville, surviving her parents’ troubled marriage and her father’s untimely death.  Spanning her years from six to 16, this Judy Garland musical features beautiful classic pop tunes including:You Made Me Love You,Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart and Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which received its own ovation. Playing through Nov. 27. Box office: 860- 873-8668

Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association.  She welcomes comments. Contact: