ACT II: Liza Minnelli tribute’s stereotypes are lazy with a Z
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org December 6, 2012 7:54PM
Sean Blake (from left), Scott Bradley and Danielle Plisz star in About Face Theatre’s production of “We Three Lizas.”| Photo by Cheryl Mann
‘WE THREE LIZAS’
When: Through Dec. 23
Where: Steppenwolf Garage, 1624 N. Halsted
Info: (312) 335-1650; www.steppenwolf.org
Updated: December 7, 2012 9:42PM
In her program note for the About Face Theatre production of “We Three Lizas,” the cabaret-style musical now playing in the Steppenwolf Garage, artistic director Bonnie Metzgar said she and her company wanted to “mark the seasons of the year with new, queer holidays, [and] the idea of celebrating our queer icons got us all very excited.”
Sadly, Metzgar wasn’t referring to such “queer icons” as Michelangelo, Walt Whitman, Gertrude Stein, Alvin Ailey, Edward Albee or even Elton John. As it turns out, what she and her creative team had in mind was the same old same old — yet another variation on the grandly talented but often messed-up daughter (Liza Minnelli) of a grandly talented but often messed-up mom (Judy Garland), both beloved by gay men.
There is a lot of genuine talent (plus a terrific band) onstage at the Garage, where this fantasia by Scott Bradley (book and lyrics) and Alan Schmuckler (music) has been directed by Scott Ferguson and choreographed by Patrick Andrews. But there also is something depressing about the way it has been built on the oldest of gay stereotypes. Is that all there is?
The story told here (and it could use some major editing and sharpening) is part modern riff on Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” mixed with familiar echoes of “A Christmas Carol.” Its central character is Conrad Ticklebottom (Scott Duff), an aging, creatively stuck designer who was once all the rage, but has clearly lost his looks and his flair for the new, even as his elfin assistant, Reggie (the clarion-voiced, indomitable Dana Tretta), is bursting with ideas.
As the holidays approach, Conrad is visited by Mystique (Sean Blake, who has the best legs in the drag business), in a moment that recalls Jacob Marley’s visit to Scrooge. He asks Mystsique to grant him renewed youth, beauty and wealth. What he gets are visits from “Liza Then” (Danielle Plisz, decked out in red sequinned tunic and tights, who does an uncanny channeling of the clarion-voiced Liza of those mega-smile “Cabaret” days), and “Liza Now” (played by writer Bradley), the rather ruined performer in her classic black jet-beaded pants suit. (I will not divulge the happy ending in this show that also features the vibrant Sharriese Hamilton, along with AJ Ware, Arturo Soria, Sean Michael Hunt, Andrew Swan and John Francisco.)
One of the true pleasures to be had in this show is watching composer Schmuckler at the piano (with the excellent Jeb Feder on drums and Brandon Mitchell on bass). Schmuckler (a galvanic performer, as anyone who saw him in the recent Chicago Humanities production of “Assassins” will tell you) should be famous. He also should choose to work on far more interesting material.