Friday, May 13, 2016

Liza! Liza! Liza!—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

Beyond the Rainbow

This musical production, on the career of Liza Minnelli, is written by Richard Harris, directed and designed by Donald I. Horn (Triangle’s Artistic director), musical direction by Jonathan Quesenberry and choreography by Terry Brock.  It is playing at their space at The Sanctuary, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (parking lot, west of the bldg.), through May 28th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-239-5919.

There is no doubt that people still recognize the name Judy Garland, if for nothing else, her iconic performance as Dorothy in the classic, The Wizard of Oz.  But her real life was far from ideal.  She was wracked with self-doubt, depression, weight issues, drugs, smoking and alcohol.  And she didn’t fare any better with husbands.  The most famous of them being Vincent Minnelli, the great film director with whom she had a daughter, Liza, debuting as an infant in the film, In The Good Old Summertime, directed by Minnelli.

A privileged child of famous parents who, one might think, would have had a privileged life.  But this would not be the case.  In fact, she would follow, almost literally, both in talent and downfalls, in the footsteps of her mother (which, of course, begs the question, was there something hereditary in how she turned out?).  But, although bad news seemed to follow her, so did some astounding successes.  She was nominated a number of times in stage, film and music for awards and won a Tony, Emmy, Oscar and Grammy, one of few individuals to have done this.

But now to this production:  ***WOW*** It doesn’t get any better than this, folks, when it comes to performers creating a musical icon.  Admittedly, I am a fan of both Garland and Minnelli, so do have to confess a bias in that regard.  But my best barometer, in judging music and musical performers, is my frequent companion to these shows, Deanna Maio, who you will be hearing more of in the future, as she has begun her own theatre company at presenting shows beginning in October, at the old Post 5 space, now called Art Haus, so I would consider her an expert in this field.  Anyway, her meter (as well as mine) was in the “blown away” section of it!

The style of the play is also pretty unique.  It has all three ladies playing her, onstage at the same time—when she was in her early years (Hannah Lauren Wilson); in her middle years (Jillian Snow Harris); and in her later years (Emily Sahler).  They all trade barbs and kudos with each other regarding “Mama”, their father, step-fathers and step-siblings, husbands and lovers, accidents, illnesses  (both mental and physical), addictions (drugs, alcohol and smoking), weight gains, instability, money issues and, of course, successes, as well.  Despite it all, there was that enormous talent that would not be denied!

What is it about genius that causes a certain kind of madness?  Or, is that the answer, too?  Madness and genius are kissing cousins.  Zorba (the Greek) confessed that everybody needs a little madness in their lives sometimes to keep sane.  Just throw off the guise of conformity once in awhile and discover the joy, the freedom, the passion of just being you, and damn what the world may think.  Artists probably have that similar drive, only it’s in high gear for them and for longer, sustained periods in which a person can be destroyed.  Such is the case with the Garland/Minnelli’s genius, I believe.

The three Liza’s are simply amazing, as performers, as well as actors.  Sahler embodies the older and possibly the wiser side of her, realizing the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” some of her own making.  Coming to grips with her demons is, in part, a road to recovery.  Sahler’s voice also signals that maturity through the many signature numbers she does with the trio.

Harris is an amazing look-alike to the short-haired Liza from the Cabaret era of her life.  When they make a Biopic on her life, Harris would be my pick for the lead.  And her voice makes no doubt to the musical talent she has doing this role.  It would be great seeing her doing the musical, Cabaret, at some point, as she has Liza moves, looks and voice down to a tee.

And Wilson, as the youngest of the incarnations, has a killer voice that will electrify you!  She simply blew me away every time she sang.  And she was always connected to the role, with little gestures, expressions, and movements that were completely in sync with the character she created.  The sad part is, she will be in college next year and won’t be around here for us to enjoy more of her talent.  But, mark my words, Ms. Wilson, someday you will get that major role on Broadway and win a Tony and I will remember when I prophesied that, as I stand to applaud your success!

Horn, as always, has done his usually amazing job with this show and his pick for the cast is spot on.  I concur with Deanna, that I didn’t want the show to end.  I wish I could say that he surprises me with the shows he does, but he doesn’t.  He always does a superior job, just raising the bar a little higher each time.  And Quesenberry, onstage too, armed with 88 keys (and some dialogue), is decidedly the “fourth” Liza.  He and his music are an intricate part of the show and I couldn’t imagine the show without him.

I highly recommend this production.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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