About Face Theatre’s WE 3 LIZA’S Is A Fantastic Holiday Survival Guide

WeThreeLizas-8Move over Christmas Carol; step aside It’s A Wonderful Life (radio version or other), a new original holiday classic is born and it is most fun you will have at a show this season. The show I am speaking is About Face Theatre’s world premiere of We 3 Liza’s which opened this past weekend at the underused but fabulous Steppenwolf Garage theatre. Part cabaret, part full-book musical, We 3 Liza’s arrives in stellar style, with a cast that is uber talented but also never lets the material get in front of their performances.

The brainchild of Scott Bradley, We 3 Liza’s explores the idea of recapturing our youth or at least the idealism of youth. The story takes place in the House of Conrad, a designer on the brink of a nervous breakdown. His eccentric staff has been with him since his heyday and has learned to tolerate his demanding nature. Conrad’s once original designs are now copied and commonplace and the design world is seemingly passing him by. Conrad’s wants are simple, as he desires to reclaim the holy trinity; youth, beauty and wealth. To this end he sends his trusty assistant Reggie to steal a spell book from Mystique, the Great Queen of Holiday Wishes. This task is accomplished and after a little spillage, Liza, in several incarnations, appears to take Conrad back through his life’s journey to make him worthy of the things he is asking.

Hot off the amazing Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, director Scott Ferguson scores again with bringing meta theatre down to the masses. In other hands, this bigger than life story would surely loose much of its soul to the grandiosity of the theatrical. Instead, Mr. Ferguson grounds this production in humanity and lets the humor have purpose in the underlying sadness of the lead character. Scott Duff has amazing comic timing as Conrad Ticklebottom. He moves across the stage effortlessly and has great onstage chemistry with his cast-mates. As his assistant Reggie, Dana Tretta is a revelation and contains one of the finest alto belts I’ve heard in many a year. Her performance alone is reason enough to see this production.

This show would be nothing without the Liza’s and each one brings her own brand of diva-ness. Danielle Plisz is other-worldly as “Liza Then” and with her Fosse Twinks (Sean Michael Hunt and Arturo Soria) is breathtaking to watch. It is as if Ms. Plisz stepped out of the Liza With a Z concert and into House of Conrad stage, at all times respecting the real person she inhabits. Same can be said of Scott Bradley who brings a more current Liza to the stage, one who has been though life’s more brutal battles. Finally there is Sean Blake, whose Mystique is the ultimate survivor and brings the diva Liza to fruition in the most delicious of ways.

The original score composed for We 3 Liza’s is very smart and melodic. Alan Schmuckler’s music (and additional lyrics) coupled with Mr. Bradley’s use of the narrative is a perfect collaboration using jazz, standards and gritty showtune ballads. It is by far one of the most creative scores written for any new work this season. We 3 Liza’s also boasts a fantastic band that never overshadows the performers, which is led by Mr. Schmuckler on piano, Brandon Mitchell on bass and Jed Feder on drums.

As “out there” as this production may sound, following the career of Ms. Minnelli and even having gotten to know her personally through the years makes this production very grounded. More than anyone in show business, Liza is a survivor who has always been true to herself and her audience. She comes from that rare pedigree where the audience is sacred and is to be respected. So is Liza herself.

Prior to the main production, there is a 45-minute cabaret performance where you can enjoy great acts and libations alike. This perfectly sets the tone for the show that follows.

We 3 Liza’s runs through December 22, 2012 in The Steppenwolf Garage, 1624 N. Halsted St., Chicago. Performances are Thursdays & Fridays at 7 pm; Saturdays at 3 pm & 7 pm; Sundays at 7 pm. Show times include a 45-minute “cocktail hour” in Liza’s Lounge with special opening acts by guest artists. Tickets are available through Steppenwolf Audience Services online at www.steppenwolf.org or by calling (312) 335-1650. For calendar information please visit www.theatreinchicago.com