Janet Gigliotti performs as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow
Janet Gigliotti performs as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow

Having just completed a five-week performance at the Talk of the Town nightclub in London and three months into her marriage to her fifth husband, Judy Garland was found dead of an overdose at age 47.

Using these two events as backdrop, End of the Rainbow chronicles the tragic final months of the American singer and actor. Probably best known for her role as Dorothy Gale in the Wizard of Oz, the play takes its name directly from the film’s iconic song, which became as attached to Garland as it was to the movie itself.

Playing the icon in the production at the Jericho Arts Centre, is Vancouver actor and singer Janet Gigliotti. And while Gigliotti admits she originally knew as much as the average person about the singer’s life, she quickly realized just how much larger-than-life Garland was.

“When they gave me the script and I read about what she went through I realized there were so many facets to her,” says Gigliotti. “I knew that because she was such an icon I wanted to do her justice. It was a bit intimidating.”

As she began researching Garland’s life in preparation for the role, Gigliotti soon had a better appreciation for both her talent and what she went through.

“I knew lots of her music, but not how much of a repertoire she actually had,” says Gigliotti. “I did a little cabaret of Judy’s music to prepare the role and it was hard to find songs she didn’t sing.”

Using the cabaret as a starting point to her research, Gigliotti soon found herself reading biographies and watching documentaries. “You can actually watch her on television and all the interviews she did,” she says.

Despite the large amount of video recordings of Garland, Gigliotti says not to expect any sort of imitation from her performance in End of the Rainbow.

“I’m watching to get mannerisms, but certainly not trying to do an impersonation,” she says. “This is about telling her story on and off stage.”

A play with music, End of the Rainbow features some of Garland’s most memorable songs, something Gigliotti hopes to honour.

“She was a genius,” continues Gigliotti. “When you watch her do stuff on stage, it is different than what we see today. It was natural and down-to-earth. When she sang, she meant every word. It all seemed so real and you can hear that when you hear her sing.”

End of the Rainbow plays the Jericho Arts Centre (1675 Discovery St, Vancouver) from April 26 to May 20. Tickets are available online at Brown Paper Tickets.