Theatre, Musicals & Concerts – Views & Reviews
As a huge fan of Ms Minnelli, I booked tickets for this new play by Richard Harris (who worked closely with Liza in 1991 during filming of his play Stepping Out) without knowing much about it, only that it would cover three different stages of her life, each to be played by three different actresses.
I was expecting three acts of individual monologues, perhaps peppered with a little music if I was lucky. Boy, was I lucky!
This inventive play features all three Liza’s interacting with each other – Liza 1 spanning her younger years from child to teen, Liza 2 in the Cabaret era, and Liza 3 covering more recent years.
As a result, we see much more than a simple biographical catalogue of events: we see present day Liza trying to open the eyes of her younger naïve self who won’t hear a bad word against her mother; a Liza at the height of success but spiralling out of control being criticised by her youth and reassured by her future; and the Liza of today trying to make sense of what really happened, how she felt then and how she feels now.
It works beautifully, and is carried further by astounding performances from the three leading ladies. Each has clearly studied the style and nuances of their Liza and that of their co-stars, simultaneously unique but with a coherence that links these ‘strangers’ together.
As a strikingly accurate modern Liza, Felicity Duncan relishes in having the best anecdotes, and has Ms Minnelli’s peculiar rasping laugh/croak down to a tee. The majority of the first act takes place between her and her youngest self, and although Liza 2 is not involved Sabrina Carter is still on stage providing occasional interruptions as Judy Garland, sat facing away from us at a dressing room table applying her stage make up. It’s quite chilling that by the end of the act we see she has been making herself up as the Liza who struggled the most not to become her mother.
The play is interspersed with a number of songs – occasionally the majority of the song, but more often just a familiar burst of a line or two to keep things moving. “Gee, you’ve got a song for everything!” taunts younger Liza – and pleasingly the key songs have been carefully chosen to avoid the ‘obvious’ big numbers.
I had shivers as the younger Liza Stephanie Ticknell-Smith delivered a haunting rendition of “A Quiet Thing” (from Flora, The Red Menace), and although Sabrina Carter was dressed like Cabaret’s Sally Bowles her solo came instead from Comden & Green’s Two On The Aisle with the vengeful “If You Hadn’t, But You Did” in a deliciously arch performance. Even pianist Neil MacDonald gets a solo playing Peter Allen, singing her first husband’s composition “Arthur’s Theme”.
After a moving final speech of realisation and reconciliation from the Liza of today, we’re treated to a medley of those more famous tunes from Cabaret and New York, New York – all three women now side by side, performing together as one woman finally at peace with herself.
Compulsory viewing for even the most casual of Liza fans.
“Liza, Liza, Liza” is playing a strictly limited period until 29 September, tickets available via tabardweb.co.uk.
Written by Richard Harris
Directed by Phil Willmot
Designed by Colin Mayes
Musical Direction by Neil MacDonald
Choreography by Racky Plews