Liza Minnelli is a gift for caricaturists and mimicrists. Flamboyant, eccentric and fragile; it would be so easy to turn a drag impersonation of Liza into an extravaganza of savage bitchery and cruel comedy. Thankfully, in the expert, kind hands of Australian Trevor Ashley the lady is perfectly safe.
That does not mean that the show is boring – far from it! We are treated to gossip, revelations and salacious innuendoes in abundance, but it is no more than Minnelli would – and frequently has – talked openly about herself. A vision in sequins, clearly Ashley has a lot of affection for Liza and his knowledge and rendition of her are superb. He has her mannerisms, her hand gestures, her throaty giggle and her voice down to a T, and as she chats away about her career, her family and her love life you almost forget that you are not listening to Minnelli in person. “Djoo know…” she says, stopping to giggle at herself, and you are lost in Liza world.
She talks about her fondness for gay men – she claims to have married four – and her love for drugs and alcohol. Her half-hearted attempt to drink from a bottle of water is comic genius. Her rambunctious and dysfunctional family is touched upon, and we are treated to sly, tantalising little asides about the rich and famous, including Barbra Streisand (“bitch”) and Martin Scorsese. Wisely Ashley does not take us through her life from start to finish; the tales take the form of anecdotes, jumbled together in no particular order, meaning that you are whisked from the side-splitting to the tear-jerking and back again in the blink of an eye. Some of her stories, especially the ones about “Mumma” are certainly deeply moving, however Ashley refuses to wallow, snapping the audience back to laughter with a chuckle and a wicked tale about paramour David Gest, set to Disney’s “Be Our Guest.”
Which brings me to the music. Accompanied by a full band, “Liza” takes us on a surprising and stupendous musical journey. The classics are there, Mein Herr and New York among them, but often they have been at least partly vandalised with incredibly funny and personal lyrics of Ashley’s own invention. His versatility is demonstrated with a ridiculous version of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face. Comic the songs most certainly are, but the band’s performance is strong and Ashley’s voice is earthy and powerful. His rendition, as Judy Garland, of Over The Rainbow at the end of the show truly makes the hairs on your arms stand on end.
Above all though, Ashley puts on A SHOW. Shimmering sequins, glittering spotlights, a violet wash and a big band; he’s brought Hollywood to the West End. His physical presence is arresting; whether standing, sitting or dancing he owns the stage, and captivates the audience. Despite the moments of pathos the mood is wildly upbeat and exhilarating. I went to see the show on the first night, and if the screaming, whooping, stamping standing ovation at the end of the night is anything to go by, The Vaudeville have got a big hit on their hands. As Liza Minnelli once said, “I entertain the People.” and so, without a doubt, does Trevor Ashley.
Review by Genni Trickett
Tuesday 15th May 2013