Wednesday, December 11, 2013

About Face Theatre's "We Three Lizas" razzles and dazzles for the holidays

From left: Liza is (Mark David Kaplan), Liza Always (Bethany Thomas) and Liza Was (Danielle Plisz) in About Face Theatre’s 2013-14 production of "WeThree Lizas"  Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Cross posted from 
God bless us, everyone (with jazz hands).  

Not to apply a post-structuralism lens to the proceedings, but in a nutshell, About Face Theatre’s “We Three Lizas” applies Queer theory to (among other things) A Christmas Carol, The Gift of the Magi, holiday TV variety shows and even the Weird Sisters from “Macbeth. The end result is a most satisfying Dickensian musical romp that remains accessible to all.

Substantially re-worked and revamped from the intimate Garage space at Steppenwolf last year, the show, with book and lyrics by Scott Bradley (“Carpenters Halloween” and “Alien Queen”) and music.and additional lyrics by Alan Schmuckler (“The Emperor’s New Clothes”), rightfully deserves to be an annual holiday tradition. 

Scott Duff is Conrad (nee Conrad Ticklebottom) and he hasn’t just given up his last name to achieve success in the big city. He’s managed to claw his way to the top by alienating everyone close to him. Once the maker of a must-have product, he has refused to alter the look or design and has lost so much market share, an unseen board of directors has dispatched a hatchet woman (Sharriese Hamilton) to clean up the books and give him the boot from his own company.

His clarion wake-up call comes to him in the form of three bearded witches Danielle Plisz as Liza Was, Mark David Kaplan as Liza Is and Bethany Thomas as Liza Always). The witches promise him three gifts if he drinks their potion. The gifts end up being clarity to his Christmases past, present and future. Incarnations of Liza act as the ghosts of Christmases. 

Duff beings the proceedings sufficiently Grinch-like and as the evening wears on slowly begins to show Conrad’s faults and vulnerabilities. The character is very much broad strokes and caricature (much like your average Scrooge is), but Duff injects enough humanity to his character that you end up genuinely caring for him.  

Dana Tretta is Reggie, Conrad’s much-put-upon right hand whose talents go unnoticed by both her boss as well as her potential love interest. Though petite, Tretta packs a boffo set of pipes that are particularly well suited for “Donna Doesn’t Notice Me.” 

Andrew Swan (“Steamworks: The Musical”) plays Young Conrad opposite Conrad’s true love Beau (John Francisco). . Their duet “Please Handle With Care” serves as both a recommendation to not rattle the packages, nor break hearts. Swan and Francisco’s voices are evenly matched in this touching holiday song that waxes nostalgically about those times when you may have been poor in money, but not in spirit. The pair also displays some nimble footwork as Fosse-style back-up dancers to Liza. 

Patrick Andrews’ choreography offers up enough referential movement that it borders on homage to both Ms. Minnelli and the many talented choreographers who have found inspiration through her.
Of the three Lizas, Plisz (Liza Was) will probably be the most memorable. She has the moves, mannerisms and –perhaps most importantly—a close facsimile of Minnelli’s iconic red Halston turtleneck minidress. Plisz captures all of Liza Was’ youthful exuberance in “I Can’t Believe I’m Me.”   

Bradley’s Liza (or should that be Lizas) finds much in common with “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Who wouldn’t argue that Ms. Minnelli’s career has featured more ebbs and flows than the tide? Unlike Molly Brown, the 67 year-old daughter of Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli has certainly had her share of more than just one Titanic-size disaster (“Arthur 2,” her perchant for marrying gay men and don’t even get me started on her wardrobe choice of spandex  while performing the title song in the 1940’s-set flop “New York, New York”). Through triumph and tragedy, Ms. Minnelli has remained “Liza with a Z not Lisa with an S.” It’s that very ability to persevere amidst career missteps, broken hips and broken marriages that has –in part—made Ms. Minnelli a gay icon. 

Ms. Minnelli is also a suitable icon for the holidays, too. Life is hard. People suck. Holidays occasionally disappoint. You can be the butt of the joke or make certain you are in on it. “We Three Lizas” would seem to urge us not to take ourselves –or our holiday traditions too seriously. And when things go wrong (and they most assuredly will), we should all take a cue from Ms. Minnelli: recognize that a mistake is in a certain way its own gift; one which we should put a glittery bow on and stick it under the tree. 

“We Three Lizas” runs through Jan. 5 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont. Tickets, $45 ($20 students). Call 773.327.5252, or

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