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Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010

Liberace Revisited at Milwaukee Rep

Theater Review

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Liberace is an empress among the queens of gay icons. Yet his talent as entertainer and pianist outranked them all. Liberace did not view himself as a campy performer. His famously glitzy accoutrements were intended only as self-parody.

With Liberace, the Milwaukee Rep’s remarkable world premiere at the Stackner Cabaret, Artistic Associate Brent Hazelton has written and directed one of the most sparkling satiric biographies to date. Audiences were delighted to discover that this one-man show, performed in a cabaret format with food and drink, is more than a musical revue: It’s a full-scale biography performed in piano and song of West Allis’ Wladziu Valentino Liberace, who used his classical training to become one of the most famously flamboyant entertainers of our time.

Jack Forbes Wilson is better looking than Liberace and not as inherently ostentatious, but he fills the juicy role with a nonstop, rapid-fire marathon of witty anecdotes and scintillating piano arrangements, whipping up a musical storm from Chopin to the “Twelfth Street Rag.” Only an occasional false piano note threatens to mar Wilson’s flawless performance, but his impeccable artistry in conjuring up a full-scale apparition of Liberace revisiting his life remains poignant and compelling. This surprising twist adds an unexpected dimension to the show.

No punches are pulled, no detail spared. We hear of the sex allegations, the palimony suit and the blistering reviews from the Times, as well as AIDS. Yet this remains a joyous show about “Mr. Showmanship,” who only wanted to bring love and affection to his audiences while winking all the way to the bank.
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