Chicago Theater Review: WE THREE LIZAS (About Face Theatre at Stage 773)

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by Lawrence Bommer on December 6, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

SOME SOULS THWART SAVING

We Three Lizas, last year’s in-your-face gay holiday hit, is back with a purportedly new book and an expanded score. Relocated from the Steppenwolf Garage to Stage 773 (where the inferior acoustics of this unmiked show take their toll), it’s as iridescent as a migraine and unstoppably funky. Doggedly insistent on winning us Danielle Plisz, Andrew Swan, Scott Duff and John Francisco in About Face Theatre’s 2013-14 production of WE THREE LIZAS with book & lyrics by Scott Bradley, music & additional lyrics by Alan Schmuckler and directed by Scott Ferguson.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.over, this rambunctious, neo-Dickensian, drag-driven romp plays fast and loose with celebrity worship. If you’re not a Liza Minelli fan, these 100 minutes will be lost in space.

Billed as a “holiday bender” (as in gender), About Face Theatre’s not quite contagious confection delivers more heat than light in its lavender musical treatment of A Christmas Carol. A drag delight whose heart has eaten its brain, the colorful Christmas chestnut features catchy songs by Scott Bradley and Alan Schmuckler–the muddled book and serviceable lyrics (also by Bradley) notwithstanding.

The story and some of the music recall Sondheim’s crack-brained allegory Anyone Can Whistle, similar in its rigidly whimsical quirkiness. Here the non-political setting is a T.V. spectacular hosted by the monumentally messed-up Conrad Ticklebottom (Scott Duff, returning to the scene of the crime), a prominent designer of mauve-colored boxes that hold out hope as long as they’re never opened.

Mark David Kaplan, Bethany Thomas and Danielle Plisz in About Face Theatre’s 2013-14 production of WE THREE LIZAS with book & lyrics by Scott Bradley, music & additional lyrics by Alan Schmuckler and directed by Scott Ferguson.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.Alas, the House of Conrad, his business empire, like Conrad’s looks and sex life, is in decline. Desperate to reclaim his faded glory, Conrad orders his faithful associate Reggie (Dana Tretta) to palaver with three witches who promise to provide gifts that may restore his trinity of power: youth, beauty and wealth. Serviceably indeed, the witches simultaneously conjure up the “weird sisters” of Macbeth, Dickens’ three Christmas Ghosts, and even the Three Magi.

But, like Scrooge and his three Spirits, these three wishes come with conditions: Conrad must experience—or endure—therapeutic encounters with “three Lizas”: Liza Was (a screamingly hysterical Danielle Plisz), suggesting the transience of youth and partnered by Bob Fosse “twinks” Ginch and Gonch (John Francisco and Andrew Swan); Liza Is (Mark David Kaplan, burning down the house) and, finally, Liza Always (the formidable Bethany Thomas). Sample of the fare: In a mock trial as strange as anything in Lewis Carroll, Conrad must prove that he has “the balls for beauty.”

Andrew Swan, Danielle Plisz and John Francisco in About Face Theatre’s 2013-14 production of WE THREE LIZAS with book & lyrics by Scott Bradley, music & additional lyrics by Alan Schmuckler and directed by Scott Ferguson.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.By show’s end, Conrad has endured enough vignettes from his past to know that his dreams came true while he foolishly looked elsewhere. He donates all his designs and royalties to Reggie, who has broken from the purple pattern to create multi-hued bric-a-brac. (Well, the “kinky boots” market was clearly taken.) In return, he receives multi-colored novelty items that chuckle when you sit on them, to be named “Gigglebottoms” after Conrad. (Happily, this second version is burdened with a much less convoluted plot. Bradley has eliminated the confusing, Diana Ross clone Mystique, Queen of Holiday Wishes—a character that took us nowhere slowly.)

Scott Duff (center) and the cast of About Face Theatre’s 2013-14 production of WE THREE LIZAS with book & lyrics by Scott Bradley, music & additional lyrics by Alan Schmuckler and directed by Scott Ferguson.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.It’s not clear what Conrad’s crisis was or why we should care, let alone how the peppy finale (a raucous “Give It A Christmas Goose”) fits the bill. But then this hodgepodge of Dickens and Frank Capra all but demands an alcoholic accompaniment. Scott Ferguson’s piledriving staging serves the silliness by never slowing down enough to let any implausibility sink in. Several songs, especially Liza Always’ deservedly nostalgic “Mama Taught Me,” can hold their own even out of context. This year, the score seems sharper in its melodic invention and power of pizzazz. The cast, particularly Plisz’s perfect replica of a feisty Minelli in the early 70s and Tretta as the stalwart Reggie, prove more captivating than their characters.

photos by Michael Brosilow

We Three Lizas
About Face Theatre at Stage 773
scheduled to end on January 5, 2014
for tickets call 773-327-5252 or visit www.aboutfacetheatre.com

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott Ferguson December 6, 2013 at 5:16 pm

So sorry you had to endure another performance of our wildly successful and critically acclaimed production (except by you) but couldn’t you at least write a new review instead of plagiarizing yourself with 80% of the same review you wrote last year? Check it out. Almost verbatim for most of it. Maybe it’s time for a break Mister Bommer. You don’t seem to be enjoying yourself much anymore. Just a suggestion.

https://www.stageandcinema.com/2012/12/03/we-three-lizas/

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Tony Frankel December 7, 2013 at 1:50 am

Lawrence Bommer’s response to Mr. Ferguson:
“Thanks. I plagiarize from the best. ​Honestly, Mr. Ferguson​, ​I recycled just as much as you did, perhaps less, when I wrote about what hasn’t changed–and I noted all the changes in the material and the venue. It was 60% from 2012, the rest an update. I’m sorry you didn’t get critical unanimity (and not just because of me). It’s obvious that I loved the songs​,​ ​but you​ look for the worst and blame the bearer.​​ ​ As for my not enjoying myself lately, please read my rave December 2nd review of CHRISTMAS DEAREST (https://www.stageandcinema.com/2013/12/02/christmas-dearest/), a much wittier, if not campier, version of Dickens’ Christmas classic than yours. Anyway, you were “recommended” you know, despite my guest’s argument for two stars. You want a different review, write a different show. And just a final point: It’s not plagiarism when you steal from yourself.”

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Scott Ferguson December 7, 2013 at 8:14 am

I welcome criticism. Of all kinds. Thank you for your honesty. I as well, adore Hell in a Handbag. I’m glad you loved their show.

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