Loose Women's Lisa Maxwell talks Judy Garland in End Of The Rainbow

Loose Women's Lisa Maxwell talks Judy Garland in End Of The Rainbow
Interview
Posted on 17 Feb 2016

In early 1969, after a string of unsuccessful shows generates a bout of bad press, a damaged and deteriorating Judy Garland attempts to get her life and career back on track with the help of her newest husband, Mickey Deans, and her devoted friend and accompanist, Anthony. But will a five-week run at London's Talk Of The Town be enough to rekindle a star that's rapidly burning out, and can she rely on the good intentions of the men around her? Before the end of June that year, Garland's drug dependence would get the better of her, resulting in her tragic early death.

So goes the story of Peter Quilter's End Of The Rainbow, a poignant window onto the final days of one of Hollywood’s greatest icons. In a new production of the show directed by Mercury Theatre's Daniel Buckroyd and touring to Coventry's Belgrade Theatre this month, Lisa Maxwell (The Bill, Loose Women) stars as Judy Garland, alongside Gary Wilmot and Sam Attwater as Anthony and Mickey. Midlands Zone spoke to the leading lady to learn more...

“I'm absolutely in love with Judy, and I feel very protective of her at the moment,” says Maxwell. “When I was little, I was such a fan of the family that I wrote a letter to Jim'll Fix It asking if I could do a duet with Liza Minnelli.”

Maxwell is far from alone in her admiration. In portraying such an enormously popular figure, she's mindful of the expectations that many audience members will be bringing with them to the show.

“The thing I think I'm most worried about is really giving people what they expect, because there'll be a lot of Judy Garland fans in the audience. Also, as a fan of her myself, I want to do her justice. Die-hard Judy fans know everything about her, so I hope that with this play we're giving them what they know and love. For those who aren't fans, we're telling a sometimes funny, sometimes touching story of a woman with a serious alcohol and pill addiction problem.”

The two characters who share the stage with Judy in this show are almost symbolic of the double pull of her public and personal life. Though mostly confident of her audience's adoration, off-stage she struggled to build trust and maintain stable relationships with other people.

“I know at times she behaved appallingly towards other people, but she had no idea of how to love or be loved because she was never shown,” Maxwell explains. “Her relationship with Anthony is one that she's comfortable with because he's just there to serve her. Even though he's a gay man, there's a lot of chemistry between them, and he's partly there to represent her love for her audience. With Mickey Deans, on the other hand, she has quite a volatile relationship, although she’s very much in love with him. I think he loves her too, but as a frustrated musician, he's nonetheless aware of the opportunities that being married to her can bring him. He's actually her fifth husband, although she keeps calling him husband number four because she can't remember.”

Despite having watched all her films growing up, Maxwell has spent time researching the woman behind the stardom, reading biographies and watching clips of her performances on YouTube.

“I want to give the character as much depth as possible. It's important to say that this is a play with songs rather than a musical, so we're trying to tell a very truthful story that’s wonderfully punctuated with all these moments where we see her in concert. I hope that people see her vulnerability, as well as how absolutely hilarious she was.”

One difficulty, of course, is that during her final months, Garland had not been performing as well as at the peak of her career, presenting anyone portraying this period of her life with a choice of whether to emphasise that decline, or to focus on the talent that made her famous. Maxwell knows where she stands.

“I want to be able to sing all the songs well, and I've been seeing a vocal coach for a few months. Yes, she wasn't at the top of her game towards the end, but the one thing that she was always able to do was to turn it on and make magic happen on stage. I'm not allowing myself to say, 'Oh, it doesn't matter if you can't sing it, because she was at the end of her life'. I'm not taking that easy way out.”

After five years presenting ITV's Loose Women, Maxwell is relishing the challenge of getting stuck into a tough acting role again. With her teenage daughter now old enough not to need her mum around so much, it's the perfect time to get back on stage and start touring again, though family life remains important to her. Outside work, she's also vice-patron of the Cotswolds Dogs & Cats Home and has been helping to raise money for a new, top-quality facility in Gloucestershire.

“It's going really well. We're there now and we're going to be opening in May. Hopefully it's going to be the best rescue centre ever! The facilities for the animals are wonderful and there are great working conditions for the staff so that when they come, they'll stay. I'm amazed that in an area where nature and animal life play such a big role there are still so many animals being mistreated. It's a real passion of mine to see this facility flourish. That said, I can't take any of the credit for everything the people who’ve been with the charity for years have done - they've raised every penny themselves.” 

Lisa Maxwell stars in End Of The Rainbow at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre from Tuesday 23 until Saturday 27 February, Malvern Theatres from Tuesday 5 until Saturday 9 April, Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre from Monday 18 until Wednesday 20 April and Birmingham’s New Alexandra Theatre from Tuesday 21 until Saturday 25 June.

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