Pros: A moving, engaging and thoroughly entertaining production.
Cons: I tried hard to think of a ‘Con’ but had to give up after a while…
To reach The Landor Theatre, my fellow audience members and I were escorted up a winding staircase, towards the back of The Landor Pub. The room itself was small, with audience seating set against one wall and the performance space only feet away from the front row. Given the charming yet modest surroundings, I was completely unprepared for what was to follow.
Somewhere Under The Rainbow: The Liza Minnelli Story invites its audience backstage, to the intimacy of Liza Minnelli’s dressing room. There, Liza (Sharon Sexton) speaks to the audience directly, taking them on a personal memoir of her childhood, working life, and her relationship with her parents. The unusually informal, conversational dialogue is sprinkled with musical hits from Liza’s career, performed live by Sexton.
The most noticeable accomplishment of this production is in the casting of Sexton as Liza. As a one-woman show, the piece clearly rests on her performance and the delivery is absolutely stunning. Hugely talented as a singer, dancer and actress, the experience was worthy of a West End theatre of hundreds, making the intimacy of this venue feel like even more of a privilege. Combined with skilful writing and direction, the dialogue appears spontaneous and natural, as though ideas are being shared on the spur of the moment. Ironically, it is the meticulous attention to the detail of Sexton’s performance that makes the conversation seem entirely genuine, rather than rehearsed.
All this is achieved whilst maintaining a flawless portrayal of Liza Minnelli. Her voice, mannerisms and personality are all spot-on and I felt the audience became increasingly convinced, often making noises of response to some of Sexton’s lines.
The biographical nature of the piece allows us to consider a wide range of themes connected to Liza’s journey. Largely the play examines growing up and self-identity, through rousing music, humorous anecdotes, and all the glamour that comes with ‘the business’. There are however, deeper layers to the piece. Glimpses of vulnerability, around family and personal struggle, are exposed during a moving sequence in which the man sitting next to me began sniffling uncontrollably.
Perhaps the most poignant idea raised by the play, is that of ‘truth versus illusion’. The script addresses this topic directly but also cunningly weaves it into the production itself, encouraging us to question how much of Liza’s conversation is ‘real’ and how much is a performance.
As with the acting and direction, the production values of this piece are second to none. The dressing room set is atmospheric without restricting the small performance space. The music cues are perfectly timed and the lighting direction is slick. Momentary lighting changes give the impression of watching Liza’s memories play out, an effect which kept us firmly engaged with the character throughout.
Suggesting an area for improvement with this piece is a tall order indeed. Whilst committed fans of Liza’s work will undoubtedly be enthralled by this production, there is perhaps room for a few more of her life experiences. Minnelli enthusiasts may wish to hear more about her relationships with different husbands for example. Personally, I found the realism of the storytelling to be more important. I felt the range of content was appropriate for the length and enjoyed the way memoirs seemed spontaneous and full of emotion, as opposed to feeling like a structured history lesson.
Whether you’re a fan of Liza Minnelli or not, Somewhere Under the Rainbow: The Liza Minnelli Story is an absolute must see. Combining laughs, glamour and touching human experience, I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys theatre.
Writer and Director: Cillian O’Donnachadha
Musical Director and Supervisor: Ivan Mc Kenna
Producer: Biscuits for Breakfast Theatre Company
Box Office: 020 7737 7276
Booking Link: http://www.landortheatre.co.uk/index.php/booking-office/musicals/somewhere-under-the-rainbow-84/
Booking Until: 17th May 2014