2013 Next Stage Theatre Festival Review: Liza Live! (Total Betty Productions)
Liza Live! is conceived, produced and performed by Jennifer Walls in the Factory Theatre Ante-chamber as part of the Next Stage Festival. It is a 30-minute cabaret backed by a two-man band and it includes 5 songs, a trivia contest and some anecdotal history.
Jennifer Walls is stellar as Liza. Her stance and gestures are spot on and she nails Liza’s cadence, lisp and breathing.
Dramaturg Ryan G. Hinds helps to deliver a script rife with self-deprecating jokes for the fans especially, among whom I count myself.
This is a team that loves and knows its subject well and refuses to take cheap shots at her.
The best moment for me came close to the end. Walls’ Liza opens up about celebrity, success, failure and love and the sentiment resonates with artists across genres and levels of experience. If we pay close enough attention, we see Walls’ own vulnerability just behind the mask of the character. The moment moved the writer sitting beside me to tears.
The Ante-chamber is not the ideal space for such a mobile performance and there are times when the performance feels clenched. I would like to see Walls go off script more though I realize there are time constraints that bind her to the material.
I would also like to see the script purged of as many references to Toronto: when portraying a person that actually exists, there is a fine line between guile and self-consciousness. When it is crossed too often, it becomes hard to suspend disbelief.
Judy Garland told her daughter, “It’s better to be a first-rate version of yourself than a second-rate version of someone else.” If this is a second-rate version of Liza, I can’t wait to see Jennifer Walls in action as herself!
- All Next Stage Theatre Festival performances are being held at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets for all shows are $15 for Evening Performances (7:00PM and after start time), $12 for Afternoon Performances (6:59 or before start time) and $10 for Ante-chamber performances
- Showtimes and ticket information for Liza Live! are available at fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival/
Photo of Jennifer Walls by Jacklyn Atlas