Broadway legend Liza Minnelli is back – onstage and from rehab. Met by rapturous applause, the enduring star ascends the stage to sing not only her own classics but those songs she never got to sing too. It’s a little known fact, we quickly discover, that Liza was set to star in almost every major musical of the past sixty years had something awful and incontrovertible – such as having to be poor and ugly in Les Mis – not got in the way.
Playing everything from a cat to the clown, Liza takes us on a journey – from the mountains of The Sound of Music down Sunset Boulevard – and the ride is incredible. Each song is transformed into a Liza staple: glitzty, unapologetic and infectiously fun. And all this with a broken back.
Liza’s Back! (is broken) is the smash-hit follow-up to globetrotting sensation Liza (On an E). Created and performed by Trevor Ashley, both performances pay tribute to (and poke fun at) Liza Minnelli: the woman, the voice, the legend. Ashley is also the creator of Diamonds are for Trevor, a one-man Dame Shirley Bassey tribute that recently played to packed houses at the Sydney Opera House, and he originated the role of Miss Understanding in the world premiere of Priscilla Queen of the Desert – The Musical.
Trevor Ashley truly is a powerhouse performer. With a gale-force voice, intensely well observed mannerisms and impeccable comic timing, he navigates the potentially unsteady waters of mocking and mimicking with finesse. Every erratic dance move, every unintelligible string of words, giggles and hics, every sly Barbra reference is perfectly placed and expertly executed. A portrait so realistic – and yet, by necessity, so much larger than life – can only be painted with deep affection for each and every affectation.
The show’s premise and progression is entertaining and is equipped with twists, turns and even a cameo from Judy G herself. It’s fun and accessible but also littered with in jokes and musical theatre references for us luvvies – “Mama, can you hear me?”, Liza sings to summon her mother, having just spent a full minute slagging off Barbra’s nose (and success).
We get to see Liza in a different light – and experience the full range of Ashley’s voice – through contrasting pieces such as The Wizard and I (Wicked) and Send in the Clowns (A Little Night Music). Each is given a typical Liza twist – supported beautifully by the 7-piece big band live on stage – yet surprisingly none of it wears thin. Send in the Clowns is at times both deeply moving and undeniably funny. Ashley’s Garland cameo is kooky but heartbreakingly full of ketamine-fuelled fragility. Towards the end of the show we get to experience some classic Liza – Maybe This Time (Cabaret) – truly cementing Ashley’s place at the table of great diva impressionists.
The show’s narrative arc could move faster, and perhaps with a more lively audience, there’d be room for some greater audience interaction however with a performer like Ashley, one shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth (sorry Barbra).
A deadringer of a performance with exquisitely arranged and performed music, I Have Confidence that Ashley’s Liza will be leaving a very special imprint on the Memory of many people for many years to come. Treat yourself, let your hair down and throw your own back out laughing.