We Three Lizas
Book and Lyrics by Scott Bradley
Find your inner Liza with this kitschy holiday escape
|About Face Theatre presents|
|We Three Lizas|
Review by Clint May
No devotee of divas am I, and when this assignment came up, I regarded it dubiously. Knowing so little of Liza (and most of that from parodies), would I be inspired to know more or would her imitated charms be lost on me? After some deliberation, I decided to saddle up and give it a go. I had similar misgivings about the esotericism of A Klingon Christmas Carol last year, and that turned out okay, and even if I don’t sacrifice to any diva’s altars, I don’t mind a sparkly diversion now and again. This revised remount of We Three Lizas (following last year’s debut) turned out to be a satisfying enough holi-gay excursion, even if it sometimes thinks too hard inside the boxes it wants its protagonist to escape.
For would-be world-changer Conrad Ticklebottom (the ever lovable Scott Duff), life has been reduced to a world of 6 sides in one color—his famed purple box. Though he once had dreams of his own, a youthful encounter with Andy Warhol squashed his own revolution in favor of the aforementioned cubism. His designer brand ruled the world once upon a time, but he’s been slowly atrophying to the point where he’s clinging to his delusions of grandeur and a single put upon employee, Reggie (Dana Tretta). When it comes time to film his annual Christmas promo, he can’t quite face up to his flailing dream when Liza won’t show and everything goes to hell. Thankfully, some Macbethian-styled Weird Sisters take pity on him and morph into the eponymous three Lizas of past (Danielle Plisz), present (Mark David Kaplan) and future/forever (Bethany Thomas) to show him the error of his ways. He must find and rekindle his gifts that he squandered in his pursuit of success—not to mention the love his life (John Francisco).
Set to classically styled songbook numbers by Scott Bradley and Alan Schmuckler, We Three Lizas is safely ensconced (perhaps too much) in tradition and derivation. At a retooled hour and forty minutes (10 minutes more than its debut and 15 more than it needs), it could use a little more discrimination in its story to keep focus and maintain the attention of an audience that came for a brisk and lighthearted romp. Trimming isn’t just for the Christmas tree but the editing table as well. For example, a B-story of Reggie’s secret attraction for the comely consultant (Sharriese Hamilton) is sweet but unnecessary, though Hamilton has the best voice (but is inexplicably the least used).
With Bob Fosse-inspired choreography by Patrick Andrews (entirely appropriate – Fosse directed Minelli to an Oscar for “Cabaret”, yet I couldn’t help but see a bit more inspiration from his work for Sweet Charity here), this is frequently a delightful spectacle for the eye. It has themes of being true to one’s talents and being bold enough to exit the shadow of your idols (for Liza, it was mama Garland), and a very devoted cast that know how to pitch their kitsch between sweet and broad, all backed up by a three-person live band. Each of the Lizas is utterly distinctive, and understudy Jill Sesso, filling in for Plisz, was a delight as she brought the spritely drug-fueled Liza pop culture knows and loves from her glory days to glittery life and easily stealing every scene. Kaplan in Liza-drag is wryly sardonic as the rehabbed Liza that can still pack a theatre. In a more surreal turn, Thomas becomes a single all seeing violet Liz-eyeball that is apparently what Liza will become after she passes on.
Even with the genuinely fabulous moments, I was just acutely aware of the niche appeal of this entire affair that some of the other connoisseurs of camp have been able to supersede. In my ten years of going to Chicago theatre, I’ve noticed a slow but steady increase in the quality of the holiday offerings, and I have little doubt that the About Face team will continue to refine this show until it stands alongside the best of them. If Lizas was on a Christmas buffet table of theatre, it would be the eggnog—too rich for some, sprinkled with spice, best in small doses—and not at all bad if you added in a nip of alcohol.
We Three Lizas continues through January 5th at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map), with performances Thursdays/Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays 3pm/7:30pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $45 ($20 students), and are available by phone (773-327-5252) or online through Stage773. (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at AboutFaceTheatre.com. (Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Michael Brosilow
Scott Duff (Conrad Ticklebottom), John Francisco (Ginch, Beau), Sharriese Hamilton (Donna), Danielle Plisz (Liza Was), Dana Tretta (Reggie), Andrew Swan (Gonch, Young Conrad), Mark David Kaplan (Liza Is), Bethany Thomas (Liza Always), Jill Sesso (Female Understudy), James Nedrud (Male Understudy)
Aaron Benham (Piano/Conductor), Jed Feder (Drums), Debra Johnson (Bass)
behind the scenes
Scott Ferguson (director), Aaron Benham (musical director) Patrick Andrews (choreography), Jerre Dye (set design), Mieka van der Ploeg and Robert S. Kuhn (costume design), Mac Vaughey (lighting design), Josh Horvath (sound design), Eleanor Kahn (properties design), Davis McCarty (projections design), Helen Lattyak (stage manager), Michael Brosilow (photos)