BWW Review: Phoenix Theatre Presents LIBERACE!
Phoenix Theatre's Liberace! tells the story of a lonely closeted man, former child prodigy pushed by his working-class overbearing father, who somehow became the highest-paid entertainer in the 1980's, and responsible for inspiring the eccentric styles of cultural icons today. His death made a spectacle by a less-than-kind coroner, Liberace takes the stage once more to explain and defend his life decisions with compassion and grace.
Jeff Kennedy plays Wladziu Valentino Liberace in a one-actor show, pivoting between playing the piano and sharing Liberace's narrative over the course of approximately two and a half hours. Kennedy covers the emotional gamut of Liberace's captivating presence, from his scandals and battle with AIDS. Liberace! is the tale of a man who learned to pander, and who wanted nothing more than to give love, and to receive love in return.
Kennedy is the sole stage presence for the entirety of the show, but holds the audience's attention all the while. Graced with exceptional musicality and roaring charisma, Kennedy fully embodies Liberace's character--performance mannerisms and vocal cadence mannered to a T. Kennedy's hilarious improvisational skills when interacting with the audience serves as extreme contrast to the darker emotional sides of Liberace's narrative, in particular the issues with Liberace's father and the scandal with Scott Thorson. Kennedy carries the show exceptionally, armed with admirable stamina and outstanding talents.
Besides Kennedy's stunning portrayal of a larger-than-life performer, the lighting design was a phenomenal highlight. Lighting designer Daniel Davisson was flawless in tying together difficult emotional transitions, and helped the audience interpret and navigate the story's fluidity beautifully. Sound Designer Marie Quinn allowed for the audience to never be overwhelmed by the many facets of the stories, from inserted applause tracks to disembodied dialogue. Costume designer Connie Furr-Soloman and Kelly Yurko ideally mimicked Liberace's famously outlandish style. Director Michael Barnard tied together the production with pacing so perfect the audience never grew tired of seeing the same man and piano for two and a half hours.
Throughout the show, Liberace's wish and firmly-held belief, "When you give someone your love, they're supposed to give it back," is echoed in various situations. Kennedy and the rest of the Liberace! crew offered their entire hearts, and deserve nothing less in return.
Liberace! continues its run at Phoenix Theatre through October 9. Tickets can be purchased by phoning 602-254-2151 or by visiting phoenixtheatre.com.
Photo credit: Reg Madison Photography