Review: Liza (on an E)
It's Liza with a Z on an E, you see...
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Impersonating iconic star of stage and screen Liza Minnelli and her turbulent life has been a staple of cabaret performers for many years. But let me tell you, there's impersonation and then there's Trevor Ashley, the star of Liza (on an E). Ashley is a Sydney based performer and drag artist who has had a hugely successful career in cabaret and musical theatre - most notably for creating and playing the role of Miss Understanding in the original Australian cast of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert over six hundred times.
This one-week show opens in typically dramatic Liza fashion, with Ashley appearing lit in the famous pose, hand out-reached to the gods and that sequin suit glistening in the lights. Ashley is backed by a superb seven-piece band, with whom he joshes with throughout.
While it’s hard to look exactly like Liza these days, without the use of a trowel and lots of anaesthetic, Ashley comes as close as you can. it is not, however, his similarity in appearance that sweeps you away, it's his startlingly accurate portrayal of Liza's every being. It's clear he has studied every nuance and behavioural trait, and this shows to great effect. Ashley masters it.
He remains intensely in charcater while conveying the story of a flourishing yet troubled life. The comedy/song ratio is just perfect. Ashley not only adopts the soul of Liza through the intricate mannerisms of her awkward body language, child-like sniggers and speech impediment, he delivers vocals, especially in Charles Aznavour's 'What Makes a Man' and the 'Losing my Mind/Maybe this Time' number, which for me was the highlight of the show, with ferocity.
The audience were captivated throughout and the old adage of 'you could hear a pin drop' was very true of this performance. The comic timing, shown especially in the number Liza (on an E), is delivered impeccably. Also look out for the section in which 'Liza' attempts to drink some water and when Ashley duets with young singer Chris Mitchell . Pure rip-roaring comedy.
Cleverly knowing that the non Liza-obsessed audience member may wane, Ashley mixes original numbers with some of his own original parody material. At times the insertion of parodied songs in certain shows, if not observed correctly, can leave you feeling a little cheated. Not here. Myself and the audience lapped it up. I only wish David Gest had been there to see Ashley's tribute to him.
The only slight criticism I'd make of the show is the random spurt of Lady Gaga's 'Poker Face. I can see that Ashley was trying to show Liza's modern side and how she's adapted to the times, with new artists, referencing her 'Single Ladies' performance in Sex in the City 2. As much as it may have been an obvious choice I'd actually rather have seen Ashley tear it up with a 'Single Ladies' performance, instead of what felt like a lull in proceedings. And I think the audience would have too, especially as I heard the queen next to me squeal: 'Here we go, Single Ladies' during the build up.
The show ended on one of the biggest performances, both vocally and in presence, of 'Cabaret' I've ever seen, followed by two encores and three standing ovations. One of the encores, and I won't give it away, was a real gay boys treat. Spine-tingling!
Ashley is a master of his art. He catches every essence of Minnelli. His superlative delivery, stagecraft and vocal ability makes this show a must see.
GT gives Liza (on an E) 4/5
Liza (on an E) is running at the Vaudeville Theatre in London until Saturday 18 May. See more information and get tickets here.
Words: Jason Reid