Review by Taylor Kendal
“What good is sitting alone in your room…well, it’s a pandemic, so…”
In the theatre world, it is a truth universally acknowledged that there are some stars that are thought to be unattainable by the ways of imitation, though many do try. Liza Minnelli is one such star; there is only one Liza with a Z, and so many who try to capture her exquisite, unique essence often fail to do so. And then – there’s Trevor Ashley.
One of Australia’s most successful artists of the stage, Trevor Ashley is no stranger to the intricacies of Ms. Minelli, having centred no less than three cabaret shows as the lady personified. This year, after five reschedules since March 2020 (thank you covid), finally, Morning Melodies at Arts Centre Melbourne bared witness to Liza with a He! A show that not only pays loving tribute, but ponders the idea of how some famous musicals would have turned out had Liza Minnelli starred in them. A concept that while not what I was expecting, turned out to be something I so sorely needed.
Backed by Bev Kennedy on Piano and an orchestra that she ‘met in rehab and doesn’t know any of their names’, Ms Liza dazzles on the stage in all her glory, dressed to the nines in her signature style, her raspy giggle and the voice that never fails to entertain the crowd. It truly is mesmerising to see just how Ashley is able to channel the star; creating a camp, sometimes over the top caricature that is filled with so much love and devotion to the real deal, it is sometimes easy to remember you’re not watching Liza. The voice, the tonal quality, and the mannerisms are so on point, it truly is astounding.
Rather than simply being a tribute show, Liza with a He! takes a chance to look at some of the roles that Liza didn’t play but envisioned what they would have been like if she had. Imagine what The Sound of Music would have been like had Dame Julie Andrews refused the part? Greatly different, I’m sure, but the familiar songs I Have Confidence, Something Good and a little Do Rei Me (complete with yodel) were strangely endearing. Intertwined with these songs are Liza’s musings on how she would have done the role different (though she did screen test for Liesl in the film), and how she was understudy for a few months for Dame Julie in Victor/Victoria. One of the highlights was certainly her take on the beloved classic Memory, executed as if “Grizabella sang in a smoky jazz lounge” and to my thrilling surprise, it works. Controversial take – I think I preferred it to the original.
But of course, a show about Liza is not complete without the classic standards. Cabaret, one of, if not her most signature song, with improvised lyrics about her life and a scarily accurate impression of Liza’s late legendary mother, Judy Garland (again, Ashley’s mannerisms and attention to detail are exquisite). A touching tribute to the late Stephen Sondheim with Losing My Mind, which melted seamlessly into Maybe This Time and an encore of New York New York.
Perhaps the most poignant and beautiful moment of the show was during the first applause, when Trevor Ashley pulled off his wig, and we said goodbye to Liza and hello to Trevor. The joy at finally being back on stage with this show was radiating and we as a crowd were so thankful to have him there. Being pride month and a week on from what would have been Judy Garland’s 100th birthday, the audience was treated to one of the most stunning renditions of Over the Rainbow, performed by Trevor Ashley as himself, with such a sheer amount of raw emotion and captivating talent that it brought me to tears.
I have been fortunate enough to have seen Trevor Ashley in quite a few different roles over the years, and each time he pours his heart, soul and indescribable talent into it over and over again. He has truly cemented himself as one of the greatest performers Australia has to offer in every possible way, and this creation is absolutely no exception.
There may only be one Liza Minnelli, but there is only one Trevor Ashley