“Liberace” – Phoenix Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ September 26, 2016



Hormel Theatre, Phoenix Theatre

Phoenix, AZ

The “Liberace” world premiere 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.

The show is only noteworthy for those of us who saw Liberace live and on television multiple times during his heydays during the 1950s to the 1970s.  Liberace was indeed a unique entertainer.

But 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.

The stage set has an ordinary grand piano instead of a famously flamboyant one that Lee used.  Nothing ever changes on stage so Barnard is restricted to directing the solo actor playing the star to strolling back and forth across the stage in a dull and unwavering straight line throughout much of the show.  The little movement variation takes the pianist to his instrument to plunk out many of Liberace’s signature song hits.  That’s about it for interesting stage action.

Turns out that Liberace’s bland life as a young Milwaukee prodigy doesn’t create much interest.  As Liberace added dash to his act, the tale becomes rather didactic so the show’s excessive running time drags as rudimentary development is exposed that played little part in creating the entertainer’s ostentatious performances.  In fact, the show doesn’t explain well how the flamboyant excesses developed to turn the entertainer into the world-wide phenomenon he became.

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.  The show doesn’t blatantly discuss the homophobia that was used to describe the entertainer’s excesses and non-conformist life style.  “Liberace” is a glossed over biography that eschews the huge challenges the entertainer faced.

Jeff Kennedy’s Liberace doesn’t look, sound, react, or appear to clone the entertainer.  Instead, Kennedy tells the star’s story without duplicating his physical persona.  This is probably a wise approach to portraying such an iconic figure.  Kennedy crones in the same non-clarion style as the man he portrays but Kennedy lacks the dynamic over-the-top exuberance that characterized Liberace.

If you saw and remember Liberace, this insipid life story doesn’t much recommend attending the show.  “Liberace” continues through October 9.  To order tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: D