We Three Lizas
By Scott Bradley (book and lyrics) and
Glittery camp for the holidays
|About Face Theatre presents|
|We Three Lizas|
Review by Lauren Whalen
Liza Minnelli: songstress. Hoofer. Muse of Fosse and Halston. Ex-wife. Guardian angel? In We Three Lizas, she’s all that and more – and there’s more than one of her! Despite an overly long running time and problematic plot, About Face Theatre’s original holiday production is a glorified Christmas Carol chock-full of glittery camp, stylized silliness and a hefty amount of heart.
Just before Christmas, fading fashion icon Conrad Ticklebottom (Scott Duff) laments his aging queen status and abuses his staff. Long-suffering assistant Reggie (Dana Tretta) searches for a magical cure for her boss’ woes – and finds it in the shopping cart of two witchy vagrants (Scott Bradley and Danielle Plisz). But when a botched spell summons the sassy fairy Mystique (Sean Blake), multiple incarnations of none other than Judy Garland’s offspring must show Conrad the error of his nasty ways – in the showiest manner possible, of course.
Bradley’s script sparkles with quotable one-liners like “Holy Molly Ringwald!” and Liza’s tendency to follow any description of a friend/lover with “He died, you know.” However, the storyline is a bit weak: A Christmas Carol is perhaps the best, most adaptable source material for a holiday show, yet it’s not clear we’re watching A Christmas Carol until a good 10-15 minutes have passed. Bradley and Alan Schmuckler’s original music and lyrics are largely fabulous – but, like the dialogue, tend to run long. Case in point: during Liza Then’s big solo, my friend went to the restroom, fixed his hair and came back at a leisurely pace to find the same song still in progress. Certain characters, such as glamorous accountant Donna (Sharriese Hamilton) and employee Karen (AJ Ware), are given so little to do, I wondered why they were in the play at all. And the last third of the show veers into It’s a Wonderful Life territory – with only a 90-minute running time, it’s best to stick with one classic adaptation.
Lead actor Duff unfortunately plays it safe. In the hands of a more daring actor, Conrad Ticklebottom – you better not use his last name, by the way – could be a hilarious, over-the-top “mean girl,” obsessed with reverting to the legend he once was. In comparison, Duff uses a more subdued style that glosses over funny moments. If there’s ever a time to avoid subtlety, it’s in a show called We Three Lizas.
However, there’s much to like about the production: the hilarious script and catchy music are just the beginning. Patrick Andrews’ choreography is snappy and snazzy enough to do the real Liza proud, and the three-man band adds a lively layer to the cabaret-style show. (When I asked the bartender if I might bring my drink into the space, she responded, “It’s a show about Liza Minnelli. What do you think?”) Duff might be a dud, but his supporting cast is a doozy. In a 180-degree turn from his threatening role in Oedipus el Rey (my review), Arturo Soria puts his expressive face to good use as a scheming deliveryman turned dream sequence dancer. Andrew Swan is sweetly animated as the naïve young Conrad, and Dana Tretta channels Cheri Oteri – if Oteri had a gorgeous, powerful singing voice – and gives the audience someone to root for as the loyal, bumbling Reggie. John Francisco brings the same soulful, low-key aura that worked so well in last year’s The Homosexuals (review), and is equally appropriate here for the role of young Conrad’s jilted lover. Francisco is always a pleasure to watch, as is the flamboyantly charismatic Sean Blake, fresh off of Drury Lane’s Xanadu (review) – chewing scenery with glitter in his perfect teeth.
The true stars of the piece are Plisz and Bradley. Plisz’s young Liza is resplendent in a red sequined outfit and eager to show off her high kicks and brassy vocals. She’s clearly done her homework, paying tribute to the living legend while camping it up in a way that Minnelli herself would appreciate. And Bradley displays masterful comic timing and fancy footwork as the older Liza. Decked out in black sequins, while listing various awards and judging Conrad’s poor choices – in song, naturally – he had me convulsing with laughter from beginning to end.
Though not a flawless production by any means, We Three Lizas is a snarky yet loving alternative to saccharine Christmas sap – and a big, high-heeled step forward. As my friend observed after the show, “Ten years ago – even five – this kind of camp would never have played at the Steppenwolf Garage. And now, here it is.” It takes all sorts to make a world of holiday entertainment, and I’m thrilled to see About Face kicking it up, Liza-style.
We Three Lizas continues through December 23rd at The Steppenwolf Garage, 1624 N. Halsted (map), with performances Thursdays and Fridays at 7pm, Saturdays at 3pm and 7pm, Sundays at 7pm. Tickets are $15-$25, and are available by phone (312-335-1650) or online through Steppenwolf.org (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information here. (Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission, following 45-minute “cocktail hour”)
Photos by Michael Brosilow
Sean Blake (Mystique), Scott Bradley (Liza Now), Scott Duff (Conrad Ticklebottom), John Francisco (Gonch, Beau), Sharriese Hamilton (Donna), Sean Michael Hunt (Twink 1), Danielle Plisz (Liza Then), Arturo Soria (Twink 2), Andrew Swan (Ginch, Young Conrad), Dana Tretta (Reggie), AJ Ware (Karen)
behind the scenes
Scott Ferguson (Director), Patrick Andrews (Choreography), Jerre Dye (Set and Properties Design), Mac Vaughey (Lighting Design), Josh Horvath (Sound Design), Rachel Spear (Sound Engineer), Mieka van der Ploeg and Robert S. Kuhn (Costume Design), Sherry Bollero (Wardrobe), Molly Fitzmaurice (Props Artisan), Jeremy Phillips (Stage Manager), Erik Tylkowski (Assistant Stage Manager), Rupert Priniski (Production Coordinator), David Rosenberg (Public Relations), Jane Beachy (Lounge Curator), Tamar Westphal and Hutch Pimentel (Lounge Hosts), Jacob Padrón (Steppenwolf Associate Producer), Dixie Uffelman (Steppenwolf Associate Production Manager), Evan Hatfield (Steppenwolf Front of House Director), Michael Brosilow (photos)