NEW ZEALAND REVIEWS(Scroll down for London Reviews)
The Dominion Post, Wellington
Showman Liberace Reincarnated
For many of those attending the show Liberace - Live From Heaven, the name Liberace would have been a household name.
For decades he was known for his outlandish showmanship, his gaudy but spectacular and flamboyant shows and entertaining piano playing. He was one the highest paid entertainers in the world, and was a resident performer in Las Vegas for 35 years, up to his sudden death from Aids complications in 1987.
However it may have come as somewhat of a surprise to those in the audience to learn of some of the more personal details of Liberace's life, as portrayed by Bobby Crush in his authentic impersonation of Liberace.
The concept for the show has been cleverly devised and directed by Julian Woolford , who uses the premise that after Liberace's death, he arrives at the Pearly Gates and has to prove himself worthy to enter, or he'll go to hell, hence the title of the show.
The voice of St Peter (a very pompous Stephen Fry) booms out from the back, questioning Liberace about his life, aided by the voice of God ( a hilarious Victoria Wood). Thus the life story of Liberace unfolds, with Crush giving expert renditions of many piano pieces including classical - "with the boring bits cut out", boogie-woogie, Gershwin, modern and a wonderful medley from suggested tune titles from the audience.
Crush is a consummate performer, with limp wrists lifted heavenward with every key change, constant glances over his shoulder at the audience and seductive smiles bringing the style and showmanship to the stage.
As expected his costumes are gorgeously outrageous - "I didn't dress to go unnoticed," he quotes LIberace as saying at one point - and his repartee is witty, especially his exchanges with St Peter and God. He is able to expertly work his audience, who he refers to as his angels, at one point walking down among them to show off his jewellery.
But during the second half, when describing Liberace later life and what he had to go through to keep his homosexuality hidden fro public view, Crush conveyed sensitivity that was painfully real.
But in the end the audience was on his side and voted unanimously for him to go to heaven rather than hell, leaving Crush to sail through the Pearly Gates in his persona as Liberace and the audience to leave satisfied at having seen a very entertaining show .
Ewen Coleman, 26 July 2010
Liberace, an evening to remember!
It's only on the rare occasion that a West End smash hit production transfers to New Zealand within months of its original success, to complete a 32-stop tour of the country, but Liberace, Live From Heaven certainly has done just that, and, at last night's performance at the Regent on Broadway, it was very easy to see why this show received acclaim.
On his death, the flamboyant, internationally acclaimed pianist, Liberace (Bobby Crush) arrives at the gates of Heaven. St Peter, as a heavenly voice courtesy of Stephen Fry, very aware that heaven is already crowded with talented musicians, interviews the pianist with the assistance of God - another out of body performance, this time from Victoria Wood. Liberace relates his life story to the audience who then vote as to whether he should enter the gates of heaven or take the lift of doom - to hell.
Simply, but attractively staged, Liberace came alive thanks to the original UK star, Bobby Crush. His larger than life persona easily filled the Regent stage as, in a very relaxed manner, he related warmly to the audience, celebrating the evening with some beautifully exaggerated Liberace style costumes and magnificent gaudy jewellery.
Of course it was the music that most in the audience had come to hear, and we were treated to some wonderful performances of the classics - "with the boring bits cut out" - along with some medleys of boogie, or disco, each accompanied by backing track where appropriate.
However, there was no doubt that the showstopper performance was the Pearly Gates Concerto, where Crush romped through a medley featuring songs suggested by the audience - ours featured everything from MacArthur
Park to the Robins' Return, stunningly put together with marvellous Liberace style showmanship. Definitely an evening to remember!
Reviewed by Stephen Fisher.
Taranaki Daily News
Feast for fans of Liberace
Bobby Crush, fresh from a sell-out London performance, re- enacted the story of Lee Liberace at New Plymouth's TSB Showplace last night.I kid myself that I'm really too young to remember flamboyant entertainer Liberace and even Crush commented on how the audience was predominantly aged over 60 years. However, by the end of the show, I had thoroughly enjoyed learning about Liberace, his music, his costumes, his showmanship and his audience appeal. That appeal was very evident among the crowd that flocked to see this show.
It was a testimony to Crush that he transformed the audience from a group reluctant to join in the audience participation to a crowd eagerly calling out for piano songs, clapping along and even a few giving a standing ovation as the show ended.There was definitely debate as to whether Crush looked anything like Liberace, whether the gaudy costumes were what they remembered, if the hairstyle was right, the quirky head moves and cheesy, melodramatic grins those of Liberace or Crush, and even if the grand piano was the correct colour.
But, by the end of the show, these were inconsequential concerns because the overall feeling was that Crush himself was a brilliant pianist and entertaining storyteller.
He had taken the Liberace fans on a remarkable trip down memory lane. He wowed them with his piano skills, satisfied them by playing many favourites, mystified them with his quickfire costume changes and even had them thinking about God and eternal life. In short, he was a great entertainer whom Liberace would have smiled down upon.
Despite the show having a huge smattering of puns about heaven and hell, I have to confess that "Liberace Live from Heaven" is a devilishly good show.
(Scroll down for London reviews)
Members of that pressure group known as Why Does Stephen Fry Have To Be Everywhere? may be distressed to learn that there is no escaping him here either. Although he doesn’t show his face, that is indeed his ripe voice portraying St Peter at the Pearly Gates in the writer-director Julian Woolford’s mischievous tribute to the entertainer who raised the art of camp to absurd new heights.
A disembodied Victoria Wood gets to play God, and a very nice job she makes of it too, turning the afterlife into a cosy suburb of Lancashire. No wonder America’s greatest showman (who died of Aids more than 20 years ago) seems bemused. Forced to defend his reputation - and his habit of concealing his true sexuality - before the Almighty, he throws himself on the mercy of the audience to vote on his ultimate destination - Heaven or Hell.
Deep down he must know that he is never going to be consigned to the flames. Bobby Crush's impersonation is so full-blooded and affectionate that you are quite willing to overlook the fact that the music and the patter are tooth-rottingly schmaltzy. Flirting all the way, he asks fans to help him with oddly superfluous costume changes and brings the Vegas medleys up to date by throwing in a few bars of Michael Jackson et al.
Woolford's script rattles through the bare bones of the story, inevitably focusing on the notorious 1950s libel trial prompted by a hostile article by the Daily Mirror columnist Cassandra. In retrospect, it seems absurd that the star was ever able to fudge the question of his homosexuality. But somehow he did, and his audience - who were much more conventional than the people crowding into this venue - was content to go along with him.
A slightly preachy tone enters proceedings before the jury has its say. Surely we have long
passed the point where gay entertainers have to canvass our sympathy? You’d think so, but the Stephen Gately furore suggests otherwise.
I have two very favourite television performers - Stephen Fry and Victoria Wood - so add them to mega-accomplished cabaret performer, Bobby Crush - and we have a show made in - well, heaven.
Admittedly, the first two are just voices - Peter on guard at the Pearly Gates and God (well, you knew God was a woman really) so the stage is all for Bobby.
The premise is that Liberace has arrived at the Pearly Gates and has to argue his right to be there whilst playing up a storm on the candelabra-adorned grand piano with wondrous selections from his extensive repertoire. In the course of the evening we enjoyed everything from Mozart to Take That.
As Liberace, Bobby Crush proves what an excellent actor he is. He has the man's phoney. twinkling charm off to a T and is totally convincing. Dressed to kill in as much glitz and and bling as the budget would allow, he brings the flamboyant entertainer to life.
Julian Woolford wrote the piece but has kept much of the darker side of Liberace's life to one side. It was in 1956 that Daily Mirror columnist wrote such a scurrilous piece that Liberace felt obliged to sue for damages and swore, under oath, that he was not homosexual. He was, of course, and for the rest of his life could not admit it in case he was charged, in retrospect, for perjury. But in those days to be gay was still sadly illegal.
At the end of the evening, the audience is asked to vote for heaven or hell for Lee (as he was known to his friends) and of course, the are unanimously on his side.
Great fun and we understand it will tour - in fact it is booked into New Zealand in July, so look out for it down under.
Having known Bobby Crush for many years as one of our foremost piano entertainers I was
unsure how he would present a story about the legendary Liberace and how it was going to work in the intimate surroundings of the Studio Theatre in London’s Leicester Square Theatre.
Taking our seats at the back we saw the amazing Pearly Gates, The Gates of Hell (just in case) the Grand Piano, complete with obligatory Candelabra and within minutes … a larger than life Liberace came bounding onto the stage complete with amazing costumes and ‘over the top’ jewellery. This was Bobby as I’d never seen him before. As the story of this amazing American superstar unfolded I realised what a very, very talented actor Bobby Crush had become. Not only did he appear to have all the familiar rhinestone suits and diamond encrusted watches and rings….but he actually looked like Liberace, spoke like Liberace and played the piano as well as Liberace. It seemed like we were in the company of the man himself. Amazing! Bobby’s delivery was excellent, his ad-libs to the enthusiastic audience were a joy to behold, and appeared very original with perfect comic timing, and his cross-dialogue with the recorded voices of Stephen Fry (playing St. Peter) and Victoria Wood (in the role of God!!!) was the ideal way of recalling the life story of Liberace and how it was unsure whether or not he should go to heaven….or down below!
It appears there had been a court case during Liberace’s life where he was asked by the judge if he was Gay? As the story unfolded it became obvious that in those days, this was a difficult question to answer, especially when having a Gay relationship was unlawful. It appears that he may have been economic with the truth. Therefore, that was the problematic decision. Should Liberace go through the upward Heaven-gates … or through the down-below Hell gates! Only time would tell. In between the story Bobby enthralled us with his amazing renditions of music by Mozart, Gershwin and even Take That! At the end of the evening the audience had to vote if Liberace should be sent to Heaven or Hell and, after receiving a standing ovation with screams and cheers for ‘more’, it was obvious that the vote would be a positive one. I can thoroughly recommend it as a great evening out, lots of fabulous piano playing, lots of fun (even the theatre owner said she had thoroughly enjoyed the show) and of course, being in the company of the multi-talented Bobby Crush is always a marvellous experience anyway. Well done that man. Definitely a night to remember … and I hope it goes on tour!
Liberace arrives at the gates of Heaven and God tells him that he needs to play a little Gershwin before the angels decide if he gets in or not. It may sound like the opening
of a joke but in fact, it is a synopsis of Julian Woolford’s latest play, which essentially offers piano entertainer Bobby Crush the chance to do his impersonation of the legendary Liberace.
For many years, Liberace was the highest paid entertainer in the world, providing performances that were as spectacular as they were gaudy. A flamboyant personality
supported by a strong, musical technique, Liberace appealed to audiences around the world, until his sudden demise due to complications from AIDS in 1987.
If ever there was a performer destined to play Liberace, than Bobby Crush is that man. Blessed with his own strong keyboard technique, Crush, in a selection of diamante-encrusted outfits, evidently relishes the insane campness that epitomised a Liberace concert. Old classical music favourites with the ‘boring bits cut out’ are merged with popular tunes, offering a hint of what a great popular entertainer Liberace was.
When it comes to the acting, Crush is eerily accurate in his impersonation and rises to the drama of the piece when the plot, such as it is, rears its head. He is granted sterling support with recorded voice-overs from Stephen Fry as St Peter and a hilarious Victoria Wood as God. Liberace Live From Heaven is a nostalgic confection that harks back to a form of entertainment that has sadly all but disappeared from our stages.
"It's spooky! Bobby Crush channels Liberace at his glittermost, complete with gleaming grin,
blinding bling and camp candelabra... star-spangled entertainment with some great gags from Victoria Wood's stroppy God."
Roger Foss, The Steve Allen Show, LBC 97.3
Liberace Live from Heaven is set outside the Pearly Gates, where the outrageously camp pianist has just arrived, along with his diamante studded Baby Grand. St Peter, voiced by Stephen Fry, can’t decide whether to admit him or send him to the ‘eternal down below’, so the audience is cast as a jury of angels, who must decide his eternal fate. What follows is part biography, part cabaret, part pantomime as the self proclaimed ‘Mr Showmanship’ gives the performance of his afterlife.
Bobby Crush as Liberace is compelling grotesque, dripping with rhinestones and camp charm. He gives us a taste of a real Liberace show, from the excellent piano playing to the eye watering costumes, frequently asking members of the audience to help him change into
something more spectacular.
The giggling and grinning do become rather tiresome however, so it is fascinating when Crush lets the smile slip. Liberace was a mysterious character, an apparently overt homosexual who would sue anyone who suggested he was gay. The moral implications of this are never satisfactorily explored, nor is the sinister relationship between the performer and teenager Scott Thorson. Instead, Liberace Live from Heaven cops out with sentimental platitudes.
By the end of the show both AIDS and homosexuality have been neatly explained by God
(voiced brilliantly by Victoria Wood) and, when it comes to the vote, not a single member of the audience of angels chooses to send Liberace to hell. Why would we? Liberace Live from Heaven is brilliantly entertaining, although it’s a shame it didn’t dare go darker. Like the Liberace Ambrosia cocktails created for the show: sickly sweet but fantastic fun.