Minnelli musical dazzles chicago

By Trevor Ballanger

Her mother took audiences over the rainbow in “The Wizard of Oz,” she sang and danced her way to an Oscar for her part in the 1972 film “Cabaret” and today Hollywood veteran Liza Minnelli is giving Chicago the old razzle-dazzle as the inspiration for a new play titled “We

Three Lizas.”

While Minnelli doesn’t actually make an appearance in the production, which runs through Dec. 23 at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St., the play offers three different perspectives—performed by three different actors—on Minnelli’s outrageousness. In fact, two of the three Minnelli characters are played by men.

“One of the Lizas I wanted to have trans[gendered],” said Scott Bradley, playwright, lyricist and one of the Minnelli characters. “I feel like the iconography of Liza transcends gender, so I really wanted to be sure that was represented.”

Bradley said the play centers around a middle-aged fashion designer and his assistant. Both wish for youth, beauty and power during the holidays, and instead they get three Liza Minnellis.

Bradley, who began writing the play in July, said he wanted to create a holiday production that rivals the humor of classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” but also explores gay characters and family dynamics, which he believes holiday classics haven’t done.

He said it explores universal themes of generosity. He added that he chose Minnelli because she has inspiring qualities.

“[Minnelli] manages to overcome a lot of adversity, both in her personal life [and] in her public persona—being trashed, publicly humiliated—and she comes back around the other side of it,” Bradley said.

AJ Ware, co-founder and associate artistic director of Jackalope Theatre Company and a performer in “We Three Lizas,” said the play embraces Minnelli’s unapologetic attitude and humanizes her as a role model and theater icon.

Ware said she is accustomed to directing and that it’s not uncommon to have artistic differences during collaboration. However, she said returning to acting required compromise and that her primary role as a performer is to collaborate and effectively tell the story.

“As artists, we quarrel and we disagree,” Ware said. “When I have felt passionately about something, I will fight for it. But I also am always trying to make sure that I’m seeing the other person’s side and that I’m not interfering with the larger goal.”

Ware said the play is unlikely to trigger backlash because the U.S. is steadily advancing its attitude toward gay people.

“Anybody can really enjoy it,” said Andrew Swan, another performer in the play. “It’s going to be a good option for people out there if they want to see something else instead of typical [holiday plays]. I know that the audience is going for it, and they love that style of humor and pop culture references.”

Despite starting out as a celebration of the gay community, Bradley said the more he wrote the story, the more he came to understand Minnelli and what she represents in pop culture. He said the play pays homage to her through Broadway-style musical numbers and heartfelt songs.

“We have to humanize our idols,” Ware said. “The reason that we idolize people, the reason that we, as a culture, make people into icons is because they represent something that we want to be in ourselves. [Minnelli] has aged into someone with a great sense of humor and self. She went through hell, and she came out with glitter on.”

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit Steppenwolf.org.