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‘Three Lizas’ puts queer spin on holiday classics

Sean Blake (from left) Scott Bradley Danielle Plisz star About Face Theatre’s producti “We Three Lizas.”|  Phoby Cheryl Mann

Sean Blake (from left), Scott Bradley and Danielle Plisz star in About Face Theatre’s production of “We Three Lizas.”| Photo by Cheryl Mann

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‘We Three Lizas’

♦ Nov. 30-Dec. 23

♦ The Steppenwolf Garage, 1624 N. Halsted

♦ Tickets, $25;
students $15

♦ (312) 335-1650;

Updated: November 29, 2012 1:41PM

It wouldn’t be the holidays without “jazz hands.”

About Face Theatre’s “Three Lizas” is a holiday musical classic in the making. This queer fantasia is equal parts “A Christmas Carol,” “Gift of the Magi,” “A Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” featuring three “Liza Minnellis” — Liza Then (circa her Oscar-turn in “Cabaret” as played by Danielle Plisz), Liza Now (the seemingly unstoppable entertainer as played by Scott Bradley) and Liza Forever (embodying her strength, toughness, kindness and humor as played by Sean Blake). The three Lizas step-kick and “Fosse” their way through a lighthearted holiday romp, showing audiences the true meaning of the holidays.

“Why do a gay version of just one holiday classic? I’m going after all of it,” says Bradley, who wrote the book and lyrics, with music and additional lyrics by Alan Schmuckler.

Bradley says it’s somehow appropriate to be co-opting traditional holiday fare and putting a queer spin on it.

“Queer people are used to having to adapt stories to our own lives,” he says. “[Similar to what] I’ve done with the ‘Scooty and Jojo’ shows, we do a mashup. I’m allowing myself to throw it all in a blender and bind it all together with Lizas.”

Bradley, the co-founder of “The Scooty & JoJo Show,” has received critical praise for his unique queer takes on all things pop culture in shows such as “Alien Queen” (a mashup of the “Alien” films and the music of Queen) and “Carpenters Halloween” (a blend of the saccharine pop stylings of the Carpenters and the slasher classic “Halloween”).

Schmuckler’s local productions of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” (featuring a book by David Holstein) and “How Can You Run with a Shell on Your Back?” (co-written with Michael Mahler) were decidedly more kid-friendly, but equally critically acclaimed.

For the latest project, Liza Minnelli became the perfect muse to wrap up Bradley’s entire concoction in sequins and bows.

“She throws glitter in the face of tragedy and disaster. It’s all ‘Love me and watch what I can do’,” Bradley says. “Ultimately, that is what the holidays are about: the time to throw sparkle on all the drama that goes on that time of year.”

Blake agrees.

“Two hips and one knee aren’t even hers,” he says with a laugh. “She has been around and gone through it. Bouts of alcoholism, two gay marriages and drug use and she is still here. No matter what your background, you can learn from her. We can all overcome if we dig deep inside.”

Plisz says her connection to the actress, singer and consummate performer is a bit more personal.

“Liza Minnelli was actually the first concert I ever went to,” she recalls. “My mother loved Liza, and I grew up listening to her and I love her, too. In a way, it’s like I’m getting to play one of my heroes.”

Watching Minnelli back when Plisz was a 12 year-old girl and Liza was in the midst of yet another one of her comebacks, Plisz caught a glimpse of the type of performer she strives to be now as an adult actress.

“I try to approach things as ‘what you see is what you get,’ in life and on stage. That’s how [Liza] is. She is open and exposed on stage. She is giving every bit of herself. She leaves everything on stage and never holds back,” Plisz says. “As a performer, that’s my goal. Never stifle what is inside of you. When people are open to impulses, that’s when genius happens. That’s how I relate to her and how I am trying to portray Liza Then.”

And as for what Minnelli would think of the show, Plisz says that’s easy.

“She would love it,” she says. “We don’t imitate her or make fun of her. There is a tenderness in how each of us are approaching our roles. It’s funny and touching and I know she would love it.”

Misha Davenport is a local free-lance writer.

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