Sunday, 23 January 2011

Liza (On an E) ****1/2

 Liza (On an E) 
By Trevor Ashley and Dean Bryant, Midsumma Festival
 Hi Fi Room, Sunday 23, 30 and Feb 6
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Star: **** 1/2

The standing ovation for Trevor Ashley nearly lifted the roof of the Hi Fi Room. Ashley is a cheeky crowd teaser and, unquestionably, a crowd pleaser. His solo show, Liza (On an E), is both a tribute to, and a parody of Liza Minnelli.

Ashley, currently starring as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, belt out show tunes but also performs moving ballads with alacrity. He does not impersonate Liza but, rather, channels her spirit: her inane giggle, affected sibilance, crusty vocal quality, rambling chatter, forgetfulness, boozing, awkward dancing, glittering costumes, wardrobe malfunctions and pixie hairstyle.

Dressed in various lamè pantsuits, Ashley commands the large audience with his impeccable comic timing, sassy characterisation and relentless vitality.

Between the 17 songs is acerbic and hilarious patter, written by Dean Bryant, about Liza’s childhood, career and her competitive relationship with her mother, Judy Garland. There are also sardonic stories about her gay grandfather, father, stepfather and marriages to gay men, including Peter Allen.

The title of the show, Liza On An E – a nod to her song, Liza with a Z – could refer to singing an ‘E’ note, but more cynically refers to Liza’s drug history: ‘E’ for Ecstasy pill. Bryant wickedly changes lyrics to the Kander and Ebb’s songs, Liza With a Z and Yes (“Don’t say No. Say novocaine.”)

His versatile repertoire includes Aznavour’s sad ballad about a drag performer, What Makes a Man a Man? Be My Guest becomes a scathing exposè about Liza’s disastrous divorce from David Gest and he satirises Lady Gaga with Poker Face. A charming, young guest, Ed Grey, shares Liza’s duet, Does He Love You?

Ashley changes tone with Sondheim’s poignant ballad, Losing My Mind, following with a run of explosive hits: Maybe This Time, Cabaret and, as the finale, New York, New York. The tight band, under Musical Director and pianist, Daniel Edmonds, provides a huge brass sound to support Ashley’s big voice and Liza’s glittering reputation.

 Hopefully, Ashley will bring this show back after he finishes his season with Hairspray.

By Kate Herbert

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