I recommend bringing a pair of sunglassses to A Liberace and Liza Christmas at CoHo Theater. It’s not the glow of the holidays that’ll strike your eyes, but the universe of sequins donned by Liberace and Liza.
The dynamic duo, performed by David Saffert and Jillian Snow Harris, pull out all the stops in a fast-paced cabaret show. Good-natured and slightly off-cuff jokes make the most of the night. When Harris’s 1970s Liza Minelli, the Liza who was a pillhead, a drunk, and stockpiling cocaine with Martin Scorsese, enters Liberace’s stage, he says in his sweetest voice: “It’s wonderful that you finally showed up.”
Snow Harris played Liza in Triangle Production’s Liza Liza Liza! earlier this year, and she has the talented emotional mess down pat. Harris’s performance this time around is the darker and wiser Liza. She’s sexy and confused. She hits her dance points like a pro, but almost trips, as Liza did when she was on her way down, joining the aged Rat Pack on tours before she became a recluse in the ’80s.
The chemistry between the imagined pair gives off the sparks of a well-programmed Vegas act that’s being prepared for a television special. Saffert’s Liberace makes plenty of eye contact and bears a wide-mouthed grin, but like the real Liberace you can tell it’s all an act. There’s some repression, some sadness, weighing down the talent. It’s the delicious sarcasm that was reined in by the good manners of the stage that made comedy what it was in the late ’60s through the ’70s. It allowed us to laugh at ourselves, but with a good-hearted kick to the pants. Where Liberace is the straight man in this act, Liza is the joke. She sings the gold hits from the musical Cabaret and in a winsome voice lets the audience know they’re her favorite Christmas songs.
It’s obvious from the get-go that Saffert and Snow Harris have worked hard to create a loving homage to these characters, and crafted a fine line that teeters between well-done and camp. Quite frankly, we could all use some escapism in this new dead of winter, and A Liberace and Liza Christmas‘s cup runneth over in that department. Did I mention there’s a candelabra on the piano? Part of what makes this an enjoyable show is Saffert’s piano work. He rolls out a boogie woogie here, and when he picks up the tempo, ever the showman, he plunks the keys as if his ruby-red-suited arms are jackhammers on the ivories. Harris takes on Minelli’s range, and we’re given a few opportunities to bask in its awe.
Your foot will be tapping, and don’t expect the rest of you to remain idle in your seat. The show relies on audience members to spread the joy, from singing along with Christmas carols and a Limbo dance competition, to naming just a few highlights. There are only four more shows through Dec. 11 – Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, Sunday afternoon – and a few special guests will be joining A Liberace and Liza Christmas.