This world premiere of Flat Rock Playhouse’s dazzling new musical, Chasing Rainbows: The Road To Oz, embodies the classic Hollywood movies of the 1930s. It looks and feels like Broadway musicals of old, while also being fresh and new.
The show is impressive, from the large ensemble to the staging by director and choreographer Jeff Whiting. There’s even a functional vintage car on the stage in several scenes. It’s occasionally backed by a rolling road projected onto a screen, in a classic old Hollywood visual effect homage. The script, written by Marc Acito (from a concept by Tina Marie Casamento Libby), is compelling. It gives the characters depth and humanity, as well as show-stopping moments where each gets to shine. Along the way, we meet early Hollywood legends Shirley Temple, Clark Gable and Lana Turner.
This is the tale of Francis Gumm, who later became Judy Garland, the star the iconic film, The Wizard of Oz. The show shares more than a song with that movie. I’s also a journey of self-discovery and overcoming obstacles. Ruby Rakos plays Judy, taking over early on from Kyra Hewitt, who plays Baby Gumm with cute charm that steals the early tunes of the show. Rakos is perfectly cast in the role. She looks, sounds and feels like Judy Garland, and inhabits the role as if channeling the legendary starlet.
Ben Crawford’s performance as Judy’s passionate yet conflicted father, Frank Gumm, is a deeply layered presentation of a struggling father. He’s on the edge of losing everything due to his closeted life as a gay man. Wendy Bergamini is Ethel, his wife, who takes the Gumm girls to Hollywood as she grapples with how to create a life for herself and her daughters. Bergamini gives an often sad character a deep sense of humanity.
Janet Dickinson and Michael McCorry Rose provide strong support on stage as Judy’s confidants at MGM. They help convince Louis B Mayer to give her a shot at stardom, despite her plain appearance. Kevin B. McGlynn gets the lion’s share of great one-liners as the tender-hearted-but-crusty studio executive.
Michael Wartella gives a dynamic performance as Mickey Rooney. He is a multi-talented, charming rascal, and you can’t take your eyes off of him.
WHAT: Chasing Rainbows
WHERE: Flat Rock Playhouse, flatrockplayhouse.org
WHEN: Through Saturday, Dec. 19. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, at 2 p.m., and Wednesdays through Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m. $15-$40