Tuesday, September 27, 2016

reviews - LIBERACE! - Phoenix Theatre

Jeff Kennedy
photo: Reg Madison Photography
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 9th.

"...In the one-man, biographical musical Liberace!...composer, arranger, producer and all-round musical talent, Jeff Kennedy, plays the excessively flamboyant entertainer as a man returned from above to perform for one last time. Liberace died in 1987, something the character acknowledges from the outset.  “I’m dead,” he cheerfully declares with the broadest of customary grins, and explains why he’s back.  His role as entertainer in heaven is redundant; everyone around him is already happy.  So he’s returned to do what he does best, and that’s to entertain the rest of us with the story of his life, and as often the case, what you thought you knew about Mr. Showmanship is only the tip of the iceberg.  “Tonight we deal with the truth,” he announces....While playwright Brent Hazelton keeps Liberace’s overall demeanor upbeat and even playful...the play will occasionally turn to darker, more upsetting moments ...The play entertains though remains ultimately lightweight, relying more on great piano playing, which is something this Michael Barnard directed, Phoenix Theatre production has. The facts between the music can’t fail to interest, but they’re highlights that move swiftly from one short anecdote to another with only the more revealing, dramatic moments of sad, self-reflection left to give the show its depth.  It’s more like skimming through a Wikipedia report online than reading a full in-depth autobiography.  Jeff Kennedy is a better musician than an actor, but with the help of Kelly Yurko’s wig design and Connie Furr-Solomon’s costumes, Jeff helps us suspend disbelief with a change of accent and a fun delivery of Liberace’s winks, smiles, nervous giggles and laughs.  It’s not an impression, and Jeff would never convince as a professional Liberace impersonator in Las Vegas, but within the confines of a theatrical setting, the illusion is set, and Jeff Kennedy’s piano playing is...glorious. " -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"...(in) Liberace!, the one man show that just opened at Phoenix Theatre, he has come back from the grave to spread some joy and tell his life story. While it is a fun show, with a very good performance from Jeff Kennedy as Liberace, it is far from perfect. The very slight conceit is that Liberace has returned from heaven, since everyone is always happy there, to bring some happiness to us earthlings, who obviously need it, and to also reveal some truths about his misunderstood past. Structured as an informative autobiographical overview of his life, with over a dozen musical pieces interspersed throughout, the show reveals a decent amount of interesting information about Liberace's early life as well as a few poignant moments about his later years. While it isn't all rosy and doesn't skirt some of the negative moments in his past, it does come across more as a CliffsNotes version of this famous entertainer's life than an in depth analysis. There is also a strange unevenness in the tone of the piece...(due to) the slim concept...(and the fact that) there isn't much information that couldn't be gleaned from a quick Google search. The second issue has to do with the strange interludes when he goes off on a tangent and is about to disclose some personal moment from his past. Instead of revealing anything, he stops mid-sentence and looks up to the heavens as if God is telling him not to get off the topic....Also, while the script does touch upon the gay rumors that Liberace fought...it never truly touches upon why Liberace hid his homosexuality and even lied about it under oath during the trial. ...Michael Barnard's skilled direction helps in ensuring the shifts in tone aren't that rocky and that the show remains as entertaining as possible.... Jeff Kennedy...is very good at portraying the various sides of Liberace....While in real life Kennedy doesn't look much like Liberace, an impressive wig, makeup, and some superb costumes (Connie Furr-Solomon’s designs are knock-outs) plus a slightly high pitched voice give an appropriate impression of the famous entertainer. ...While it isn't perfect, what Liberace! does get across extremely well is how talented the entertainer was, and how desperate he was for love. It also does a good job of showing that Liberace was simply too insecure to admit the truth about who he was in order to get that love from one man; he instead had to find a way to get that love from his fans. However, being an incredibly successful closeted gay man in the 1950s must have been extremely difficult and there are many details that are glossed over, as Liberace did in his life. With Kennedy's superb performance, Phoenix Theatre's production results in a charming and entertaining show. It's just too bad that Liberace! leaves so many questions unanswered. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"...“Liberace”...finds playwright Brent Hazelton explaining the details about Mr. Showmanship’s convoluted life with an emphasis on his upbringing and the complexities of producing his famous nightclub entertainment....for those with limited exposure to Liberace, the show drags with its exhaustive detail but bland retelling of his legend.  Several problems are inherent in the script and the limited physical production only hints at the excesses of Liberace’s performances.  Even gifted Michael Barnard’s direction is plagued by the show’s uninspired story....Turns out that Liberace’s bland life as a young Milwaukee prodigy doesn’t create much interest. ...There are a few outlandish costumes that give a taste of Liberace’s visual allure but nothing about the production splashes like the entertainer did.  The script only hints here and there about the scandals and innuendo that plagued Liberace’s private life as it impacted his professional stature.  ... “Liberace” is a glossed over biography that eschews the huge challenges the entertainer faced....If you saw and remember Liberace, this insipid life story doesn’t much recommend attending the show. " --Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

"Liberace...was anything but subtle, and the same can be said for Phoenix Theatre’s salute to Mr. Showmanship. Jeff Kennedy...plays “the man behind the grand” ...and if he is not quite as virtuosic with the classical repertoire as his character was, he does a wonderful job portraying Liberace’s wry humor and lust for life as he chats up the audience and relives the entertainer’s journey from parochial Wisconsin to Las Vegas and the world stage. ...In the spirit of light entertainment, “Liberace!” skips the gory details, but it does make sure to hit you upside the head with as much pathos as it can muster...." Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

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