A pint-sized Liza Minnelli sashays into a bar-turned-theatre-space, belting out her famous number “Cabaret” from the show of the same name. Though unusually, in the “I used to have . . .” section of the song, instead of rattling off the story of a girlfriend known as Elsie, Liza sings about her darling mother, Judy Garland. Liza adores her mother, worships her. In fact, she quickly reveals a picture of her and Judy, which remains onstage, looming above all else for the half-hour show.
is a Liza impersonation done right by the firecracker talent of Jennifer Walls, a performer in her own right minus the Minnelli element. Walls brings an earth-shaking set of pipes alongside an impersonation that steers clear of parody and goes all in for a loving, caring portrait of Liza, a figure at once comic and tragic. The mannerisms, the voice, the silly glamour: all of it is there without becoming a caricature.
Like Minnelli’s celebrity, the show is not without its problems: one, a practical issue, is the time constraint of 30 minutes. There is a definite impression that Liza Live!
can and wants to go a lot of places with the diva. While there are some fabulous numbers and some indulgent one-liners, the show has something important to say about Minnelli, which at its heart is something very sad. Unfortunately, there are only so many personal stories and musical numbers that can fit into half an hour. The strongest and most poignant moments, the ones that feel most real, are when Walls’ Minnelli is baring her soul. These moments are made too few by unnecessary performer-musician banter and an audience participation section that does little for the show. Walls’ Liza is too lovely, sad and easy to relate to. She doesn’t have to rely on gimmicks to sell herself to us. She’s also, clearly, a generous Liza, smoothing over the really messy bits and amping up the talent factor. There is no doubt that Walls loves Liza, so there is sometimes an impression that she’s holding back from taking her to the darker places, though these moments, and the dark, sad side of the personality, are the most exciting in the show. When given the room, Walls’ Liza really takes off and will leave you wanting more.
Liza Live! is part of
The Next Stage Festival, running Wed, Jan 2–Sun, Jan 13 at the Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St. $10–15. fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival