Review Roundup: Critics Sound Off On Paper Mill's CHASING RAINBOWS

By: Oct. 09, 2019

Review Roundup: Critics Sound Off On Paper Mill's CHASING RAINBOWS Don your ruby slipper! Paper Mill Playhouse's New Jersey premiere of Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz is now on stage featuring a book by Marc Acito, musical adaptation & additional music by David Libby and conceived by and additional lyrics by Tina Marie Casamento.

Directed and choreographed by Tony award nominee Denis Jones, Orchestrations by Larry Blank and David Libby with music direction by Lawrence Yurman, the principal cast features Ruby Rakos (Billy Elliot) as Judy Garland/Frances Gumm, Tony Award nominee Max von Essen (An American in Paris, Paper Mill's The Baker's Wife) as Frank Gumm, Olivier Award-winner Lesli Margherita (Matilda, Dames at Sea) as Ethel Gumm, Karen Mason(Mamma Mia!, And the World Goes 'Round) as Ma Lawlor/Kay Koverman, Stephen DeRosa (Into the Woods, HBO's Boardwalk Empire) as Louis B. Mayer, Michael Wartella (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tuck Everlasting) as Mickey Rooney, and Colin Hanlon (ABC's Modern Family, Paper Mill'sBenny & Joon) as Roger Edens.

Rounding out the cast are Tia Altinay, Mackenzie Bell, Kristen Grace Brown, Lamont Brown, Joe Cassidy, Clara Cox, Tessa Grady, Sophie Knapp (Teaneck, NJ), Molly K. Lyons, Kimberly Immanuel, Christina Maxwell, Kevin B. McGlynn, Allsun O'Malley, Samantha Joy Pearlman, Drew Redington, Joshua J. Schwartz, Parker Slaybaugh, Sean Thompson, Violet Tinnirello and Kathy Voytko (Bloomfield, NJ).

Before she burst onto the big screen as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland was a young vaudeville trouper named Frances Gumm. In this highly anticipated new musical chronicling Garland's early career from vaudeville baby to MGM teen star in the making, the road to Oz is paved with adversity. At its heart a story of love between a father and daughter, featuring such legendary songs as "Over the Rainbow," "You Made Me Love You," and "Everybody Sing," Chasing Rainbows is a poignant coming-of-age tale about "the little girl with the big voice," who went on to become one of the world's most beloved entertainment icons. The show has already earned praise from Liza Minnelli, who said, "My mother said that her biography is in her music, and now a talented creative team is using that music to tell the story of her early years and her extraordinary rise to fame."

Let's see what the critics have to say!

Marina Kennedy, BroadwayWorld: Musical highlights abound in Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz. From the young performers to Broadway veterans, the songs are wonderfully presented and the dance sequences are mesmerizing. Some favorites include "Shooting High: by Gumm Family; "This is a Happy Little Ditty" by Shirley and Students; "You Made Me Love You" by Ethel and Frank; "When You're Smiling" by Frank & Baby; "Judy" by George Jessel and Judy; "Roger's Coaching" by Roger and Judy; "Swing, Mister Mendelssohn" by Edna Mae, Mickey & Judy; "If/Only by Kay; and of course, "Over the Rainbow" by Judy.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, The New York Times: Joe becomes Judy's best friend and, more important for our purposes, leads the excellent ensemble number "All Ma's Children." The director/choreographer Denis Jones, a Tony Award nominee for "Tootsie" and "Holiday Inn," comes up with an inventive combination of props and tap that captures the carefree energy of the Judy and Mickey vehicles. Jones also contributes the production's other highlight: a brief interlude during the number "Got a Pair of New Shoes" when the orchestra stops playing and the ensemble taps unaccompanied. This creates the ineffable impression that time stands still while the performers are in motion, and it is glorious. But as soon as we get near the less savory side of show business, the show falters again. Far from the predatory mogul of real life, for instance, the MGM boss Louis B. Mayer (Stephen DeRosa) is here an avuncular presence, affectionately manipulated by his secretary, Kay Koverman (the Broadway and cabaret veteran Karen Mason).

Karen Nowosad, Let's Go To The Theatre: There are also some very fine dance numbers choreographed by Denis Jones who does double duty on this show as Director/Choreographer. The song in the school, "All Ma's Children," is a standout. Sets are well designed and the lighting enhances moods especially in the Hollywood scenes.

Jay Lustig, NJ Arts: The problem with jukebox musicals is that's it's not always possible, in representing a classic performer's life (or some part of it), to find a story that works well on the stage. But the creative team behind "Chasing Rainbows" (Marc Acito, book; David Libby, music adaptations and additional music; Tina Marie Casamento, conception and additional lyrics) have come up with one. And with strong acting performances - particularly by Ruby Rakos, who is stunningly good as Garland - and direction and choreography by Denis Jones that conjures the bustling energy and high spirits of golden-age Hollywood musicals, "Chasing Rainbows" won me over. I highly recommend it.

Patrick Maley, NJ Advance Media: If there is one aspect of this production worth celebrating, it is Rakos's stellar voice. The show insists constantly that Judy is a little girl with a grownup voice, and Rakos is able to deliver on that promise. Throughout the show, she demonstrates impressive tonal and expressive range worthy of her character's legacy, and she nails the show's climax with an arresting performance of "Over the Rainbow." Among a dizzying journey through a story overburdened with details, the steady stream of Rakos's singing offers a welcome and regular respite.

A.D. Amorosi, Variety: Rakos lends Garland her own light and force, and Hallelujah-come-on-get-happy for that. Whether tackling James F. Hanley's jazzy "Zing Went the Strings of My Heart" or E.Y. "Yip" Harburg/Harold Arlen's forlorn "Over the Rainbow," the actress never apes the Great Judy, but instead leaves a faint impression of the legend while making her own mark with the material.

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