There was a column recently in the New York Times by a man who took a friend of his to see Tracie Bennett in ‘End of the Rainbow.’ His companion didn’t get Garland and seemed to yawn. He even said (I’m speaking from memory, being unable to find the article) that he preferred his artists real, or some such thing.
Bennett is extraordinary as Garland and this isn’t a review. Nor was I ever a fan of the legend. I grew up listening to Joplin, Hendrix, the usual late-60s suspects. But seeing the show last night with my partner Frank for his birthday, I was reminded that reducing Judy Garland to just another gay icon is like saying Pavarotti was a pretty good Italian singer.
Judy Garland’s talent was otherworldly. She belongs not in a gallery with Madonna, Cher, and now Lady GaGa, but with a very small elite of once-in-a-lifetime entertainers. She did not have massive multi-media extravaganzas to prop her up. She didn’t have dancers and elevated stages. And she sure as hell didn’t lip sync.
She was breathtaking, and while every generation does indeed have its gay icons (real or not), and while some may even argue that the time for gay icons has passed, what with all the baby strollers in our midst, to suggest that Judy Garland was just another gay icon is to be blind to the beauty and the magnificence of her. The tragedy is another matter.