Liza Liza Liza At The Tabard Theatre
Nick Hennegan says Yes Yes Yes to the Richard Harris play
Before I saw the Tabard Theatre's latest offering I had to check to see that showbiz icon Liza Minelli is still alive. She is, fortunately for her.
The fact I needed to confirm her mortal status shows I’m not particularly a fan, but Liza Minnelli is one of those global showbiz legends we all know. Or at least we think we do. And just in case you’ve been living on Mars, the daughter of the Hollywood tragi-legend Judy Garland and film director Vincente Minnelli, Liza May Minnelli, was born 12 March, 1946 and is an American actress and singer. She’s won numerous awards and will always be remembered for the high heels and haircuts and the film Cabaret. Her longevity is further confirmed by recent appearances on the US TV cult, ‘Arrested Development.’
This World Premiere is actually a bit of a strange mix. Not quite cabaret, not quite musical, it slips genres somewhat. But although there are some songs and a bit of a Liza-a-long at the end, it’s a rather good play. Its pedigree is impeccable, being written by Ealing resident Richard Harris, whose credits include The Avengers, The Sweeney and The Saint on TV but perhaps more importantly, Outside Edge and Stepping Out for the stage. It was when Liza Minnelli joined the cast for the film version of Stepping Out that the idea for this play was born. Harris took documented parts of her story to weave into his presentation of her life.
Sabrina Carter, Felicity Duncan, Stephanie Ticknell-Smith
It’s a neat premise. It also has an excellent cast. Three actors play Liza at different times of her life. There’s wide-eyed optimistic young Liza, played by Stephanie Ticknell-Smith, who has to deal with a difficult childhood and the shouted commands of her mother - sitting at an upstage make-up mirror - as she tries to make her way in the world. Liza 2 is Sabrina Carter, vampy and Cabaret-fishnets. She deals with later Liza - the fame and the demons of drink, drugs and weight problems. And then the whole piece is glued together by a remarkable performance from Felicity Duncan as mature Liza. If Liza Minnelli had shuffled off this mortal coil, you would only have to travel to Chiswick to see her live again. Duncan's depth of humour and breadth of emotion is worth the price of a ticket in itself.
The three Lizas’ question each other about incidents and occurrences from their life, but director Phil Willmott keeps the pace, mood and movement light. Colin Mayes’ design is cleverly ‘showbiz’, using a giant, perspex, ‘Liza’ gushing across the centre of the tiny Tabard stage to provide solid acting areas and focus. The musical direction of Neil MacDonald makes clever use of a piano and an occasional male voice. There’s attractive choreography by Racky Plews - although remember, this is a play, not a musical - and the lighting by Miguel Vicente and sound by James Nicholson are both spot on and blend beautifully with the action. As you’d expect from a writer of Harris’ pedigree, the script is very solid with some killer lines (“Smoking. It’s one of the leading causes of all statistics!”) and it is a testament to the quality of the writing and the acting that the early Liza-life is actually almost the most interesting. Because cleverly, although we are dealing with showbiz royalty, Harris and Willmott make sure we relate to a very warm, human and sometimes emotional story. Quality pervades the whole production.
It’s a strong offer of a light piece that sees the Tabard once again punching above its weight. If you are a fan of Liza Minelli, steal a ticket and enjoy an intimate experience with a living legend - you won't want to miss this show. Even if you’re not a fan, this loving portrait may turn you into one. Either way if you fancy a humorous, smart, occasionally moving, uplifting night out, come to the (Tabard) Cabaret, old chum!
PS Richard Harris has not told Liza Minnelli that he has written this show. But if it goes well, he says he might. To PROVE that Liza is still kickin', here's her website... http://www.officiallizaminnelli.com
September 16, 2013