About Face Theatre in Chicago launched a new holiday stage spoof last year with a test-out run as one of the 2012 Steppenwolf Garage theater season offerings.
Described as a blend of classic Christmas tales with pop culture, the result is a silly holiday production, laden with lessons, called "We Three Lizas."
Like the enduring phenomena that is the career and success of Liza Minnelli, the "times-three" inspiration for this 90-minute romp, the production returned this year for an extended run through Jan. 5 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont St. in Chicago.
Last year, this stage story was clearly a "work in progress," thus a perfect fit in the intimate surroundings of The Steppenwolf Garage, 1624 N. Halsted St., with last year's performances even including a 45-minute "cocktail hour" in Liza's Lounge with special opening acts by guest artists.
The cocktail lounge concept, which I loved, is now gone. But just like last year, the actual show still clocks-in at around 90 minutes without an intermission.
My biggest baffle about this production last year, was that it took nearly 45 minutes before an actual appearance by the recognized grand lady herself from the show's title. This time around, she shows up after about 30 minutes. Sooner-than-later would still be even better. (A Christmas diva fairy with Liza-like moments, played last year by Sean Blake is gone and replaced by the odd inclusion of three "Duck Dynasty" bearded Shakespearean witches, a curve-ball which seems to muddle the proceedings.)
Billed this year as "a darkly, sparkly musical," is does live up to these wonderful words. But it still need fine-tuning. The story is about business-driven fashion designer Conrad Ticklebottom, played by fussy Scott Duff, and his anxious (gender non-specific) assistant Reggie, played with spunk by Dana Tretta. The new revised script takes on a Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" approach with incarnations of Liza Minnelli leading Conrad on a holiday journey of his life's mistakes.
Of the Liza trio, by far, Danielle Plisz, returning once again, is by far the favorite and fits the role, just as deliciously scattered and excitable as ever. I faced fewer chuckles with Mark David Kaplan's second Liza, who never quite gels with the lines written and delivery. (Hey, I have no double doing Liza justice in drag must be quite tricky.) The third Liza for this turn-about is courtesy of towering Bethany Thomas, an actress I love. Thomas isn't so very Liza, but she's still awfully fun to watch and listen to.
It also stars a return appearance by talented John Francisco who is a versatile performer who captivates. Andrew Swan is also back and he manages quite nicely wearing a few hats, but especially as a Young Conrad from the past. But all in all, there are just too many musical number squeezed in this 90-minutes, making this holiday fruitcake find too filled with candied ingredients and not even cake to hold it all together when served up to hungry audiences.
The musicians are deserving of a smile and a nod for their beautiful blend, which include Aaron Benham (keyboard), Jed Feder and Andrew Abromowitz (percussion) and Debra Johnson (bass).
Tickets are $20 to $45 at aboutfacetheatre.com or stage773.com or (773) 327-5252.