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Liza’s Back! (Is Broken) (London Wonderground, London): Review

liza's back It's all Liza, I tells ya! Trevor Ashley as Liza Minnelli in 'Liza's Back! (is Broken)'. Photograph: Courtesy of Trevor Ashley.

Trevor Ashley’s triumphant return as ultimate cabaret idol, Liza Minnelli, possibly outshines the superstar herself, in Liza’s Back! (is Broken).

Trevor Ashley is back as Liza Minnelli, after the roaring success of his previous show Liza (on an E). This time, Liza takes us through all the Broadway shows she wasn’t but should have been in.

Concept

Liza is a modern monolith. Daughter of the already supernovic Judy Garland, she was bigger and brighter than anyone else of her age, and is still cherished by fans to this day. But Liza Minnelli’s fame is only match by her infamy, with addictions being wrung through the public gaze as well as her failed marriages. This has made Minnelli prime for ribbing for decades, and Ashley is certainly not one to miss out on this. However, Ashley’s drag act is less of a shameless piss-take, but more of a very affectionate and knowing Michael-taking than a snide schadenfreude. Exploiting Liza’s recognisable ticks, mannerisms, and personality, although the real life Minnelli is the butt of all the jokes, it’s always in the spirit of a loving scathing tribute. Liza’s Back! (is Broken) might be a wild exaggeration of the real life person, but it’s still a send-up that’s done by someone who adores her and all her fabulous faults. Thought whilst you do need to know your Minnelli trivia, and also that of her peers, to get the best out of Liza’s Back! (is Broken), even if you only have a cursory knowledge and appreciation for the star, you’ll still have a whale of a time.

What keeps Liza’s Back! (is Broken) lively is that it doesn’t just rely on its jokes, as the show could have very easily have gotten old quickly: there’s only so many ways you can send up Minnelli’s foibles before it loses its funny. Ashley’s admiration and knowledge means that he ensures that while he royally roasts her, he makes sure he captures what makes Minnelli the legend that she is: she’s one hell of a performer. Somewhere halfway through Liza’s Back! (is Broken) the pummel of jokes give way to a presence and performance that is as captivating and as entertaining as the giggles Ashley dishes out. There are still plenty of quips thrown into the mix, like fantastic songs from some well known musicals “Liza-ized”, but the laughter is overcome by a genuine awe to be in the presence of someone who doesn’t just send-up Minnelli like no other, but someone who has also managed to recreate her astounding talent.

Direction & Production

Coming in at just under 90 minutes, Liza’s Back! (is Broken) is very pacey and snappy. It really is just the right hit of Liza that keeps you grinning from ear to ear, give your diaphragm a good workout, and keep you screaming for more. Indeed, the 90 minutes really fly by you’re having so much fun. Liza’s Back! (is Broken) could certainly go on for another 30 minutes or so, but at an hour and a half you really can’t complain that you didn’t get enough, but you certainly can’t complain that it was too much.

Having a live band on stage as well gives the show a fantastic buzz and dynamic. It means the entire show follows Ashley, giving him the room to be spontaneous during the songs and respond to the audience. It takes a very good musical director to achieve this, too, and Liza’s Back! (is Broken)’s run at the London Wonderground certainly had this. It’s actually difficult to imagine the show without a live band. Pre-recorded music could certainly work, but it doesn’t have the sparking quality or as much fizzing pizzazz.

Performance

It is almost certainly hyperbole to say, but Ashley may well be as good, if not better, than Minnelli herself! That’s not to say he’ll ever be a replacement (seriously 2016, just don’t even think about it), but the mix of knowing and hilarious humour and the power of Ashley’s performance is simply barnstorming. For starters, Ashley’s impression of both Minnelli and her mother, are spot on to the point you almost forget that it’s not actually Liza you’re witnessing on stage. They may be larger than life due to the context they’re done in, but they’re instantly recognisable and thoroughly convincing. Then, there’s Ashley’s ability to not only sing, but sing and perform like Minnelli. It’s a simply jaw-dropping experience, full of force and glamour like you’ve never seen before. You are simply bewitched by Ashley in exactly the same way as the real Minnelli. Mix this together with Ashley’s ineffable charisma as the super diva, and a spunky and whiplash rapport that he builds with the audience, and you don’t have a show, you have an event.

Verdict

What’s the use of sitting alone in your room when Liza’s Back! (is Broken) is in town! The Liza Minnelli experience to end all Liza Minnelli experiences.

Liza’s Back! (is Broken) was reviewed during its run at the London Wonderground, London, SE1 8XX, between 31 August – 3 September 2016. For more information about Trevor Ashley and upcoming shows visit trevorashley.com.au.