Underbelly, London – until 2 July 2017
Guest reviewer: Maeve Campbell
Liza Minnelli should have starred in the original Sound of Music, Gypsy and Les Miserables, but somehow things got in her way. That’s Trevor Ashley’s vision, and he is giving her some of those classic Broadway moments in this hour and a half show. Direct from rehab, Ashley’s Liza is suitably glittery, lispy and pant-suited. This is not a subtle impersonation, but the receptive London audience certainly don’t want that.
It’s an exhausting performance to watch. Highlights include a coked-up dance break during a rendition of ‘The Music and the Mirror’ from A Chorus Line. Liza’s ‘Send in the Clowns’ is both moving and hilarious, as she chokes on a cigarette between verses. To the untrained Broadway ear, some of Ashley’s choices seem obscure. However, the voice is so impressive that it doesn’t matter. This is shown off when the spirit of Judy Garland enters her daughter’s body, and Ashley demonstrates that deep resonant vocal power both women are so famous for, whilst perfectly observing their differences.
And like her mother, Ashley’s Liza is a tragic figure. Showbiz stories pepper the piece, with jabs at the expense of Barbara Streisand, Julie Andrews and Bob Fosse. Liza is bitchy, but not bitter and Ashley maintains a sense of wide-eyed wonder and innocence that makes Minnelli so beloved. Not every joke lands, but that adds to the sadness of this character. In comparing herself to Norma Desmond, Liza is oblivious to her own irrelevancy in contemporary popular culture. However, Ashley isn’t cruel in his portrayal of the star; he is clearly a fan, and the moments that jar make us sympathetic for the deeply likeable Liza.
By encore number two, after a very enjoyable version of ‘Don’t Cry for me Argentina’, Ashley predicts he will be incapacitated by the end of the run, and sitting for the whole show: ‘like she (Liza) does now.’ This is perhaps a sincere emission as this show is a truly an endurance test. Supported by an excellent live band, riding off a rapturous audience, Ashley will likely pull through; not unlike his resilient subject.