AWARD-WINNING actress Tracie Bennett won standing ovations throughout her West End run as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow. It echoed the acclaim the real Judy received when the play was set.

AWARD-WINNING actress Tracie Bennett won standing ovations throughout her West End run as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow. It echoed the acclaim the real Judy received when the play was set.

End of the Rainbow takes place in London in December 1968. Judy appeared to rave reviews at The Talk of the Town. Now the show, written by Peter Quilter, is touring and will be at Cambridge Arts Theatre from Monday, September 26.

Both Judy (real name Frances Ethel Gumm) and Tracie, share June birthdays, great voices and magical stage presence, but in personality the two could not be further apart. Tracie Bennett (born Tracie Bennett), aged 50, is the most down-to-earth woman you are likely to meet. The sort you would like to live next door to.

When she was still appearing as Sharon Gaskell in Coronation Street, she won Celebrity Stars in Their Eyes as Judy Garland. But that's just a coincidence she says - she did it to make up the numbers.

She says: "I kept saying no. I was doing eight episodes a week in Coronation Street and it was my story-line. They (The Stars in Their Eyes team) kept on at me and I only sang for them to make them stop. Finally, I said you know I'm working in the studio next door, if you can find me an empty studio to rehearse in after my 18-hour day - I'll do it. I didn't think they would....."

The young Tracie, as a grammar school girl in Leigh, Lancashire, had no idea of being an actress. She was a good swimmer and she wanted to be a stunt woman but she had been in school plays.

"When you're little, you don't think about careers. My all-girls school was very strict but the headmistress was a piece of genius. She pulled me in one day and she said: 'Tracie you might have a problem because you've got a big personality.' She said: 'Don't let anyone dampen your spirit. You are creative'.

"I thought - there's nowhere to be creative here. In those days it was nursing, the police or being a teacher - I knew I wasn't academic and I didn't want to work in an office. I read in Jackie magazine about the Italia Conte School. I told my mum that I wanted to audition. She said don't be ridiculous but I kept on at her. I used to work in a market - I worked from the age of 11 and I got £4 a day so I saved up until I had the coach fare to London."

She got her place at the Italia Conte aged 16 but first she worked in a tax office for a year to save up for the fees and a pair of contact lenses. Throughout the three-year course, she worked in a supermarket.

"I was on the tills from 4pm to midnight, then I would go home, wash my one leotard and set my alarm clock for 6pm. Now I get letters from drama students, God love 'em, asking me for money - I say get a job babe - are you still going to be writing to me when you are out of work in the industry?"

She says she has had the odd spell out of work but it's difficult to see how she's had the time. It's easier to list what she hasn't been in. She has won two Olivier Awards and been nominated for at least two more. She has won a Whatsonstage Award, a TMA (Theatre Management Association Award). Her CV includes soaps and Shakespeare, West End musicals, two stints in Coronation Street, films and at least 30 television dramas. She is also the voice of Bridget Jones on both books for which she won the International Audi Award for Comedy Best Actress.

In December, 1968 Judy Garland was with the man who became fifth and last husband, Mickey Deans. The following year, she was found dead of a drugs overdose, aged 47. But for that tour in London, she had bewitched her audience. Tracie Bennett recreates the sorcery.

INFORMATION: End of the Rainbow is at Cambridge Arts Theatre from September 26 to October 1 at 7.45pm with matinees Thursday and Saturday at 2.30pm. Tickets: £15, £25, £30 and £35. 01223 503333 or www.cambridgeartstheatre.com