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Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Liberace!
Ivoryton Playhouse
Review by Zander Opper | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's review of Rear Window


Daryl Wagner
Photo by Anne Hudson

Talk about Mister Showmanship—Ivoryton Playhouse is currently presenting the monumentally talented Daryl Wagner in its entertaining production of the play Liberace!. As written by Brent Hazelton and smoothly directed by Jacqueline Hubbard, Liberace! is the life story of the legendary entertainer, from his early years to his death. But the real story is onstage in Daryl Wagner's staggering recreation of this star. Dressed in the most elaborate of costumes, Daryl Wagner is a wonder, both in his ability to personify the over-the-top entertainer and, especially, in his breathtaking piano playing. This actor has all the humor and mannerisms down, but this is much more than just an impersonation: he almost makes one feel that Liberace is truly back, in all his glory. And while the play itself, at times, isn't always on Daryl Wagner's spectacular level, Liberace! at Ivoryton Playhouse is still quite a show to see.

When the audience enters the theatre, the curtain is up and one is immediately faced with the sight of a grand piano onstage. Daniel Nischan's scenic design is appropriately simple for this one-man show and it is actually at this piano where the magic is made. From the moment Daryl Wagner begins playing the keys, there is a level of transcendence that immediately permeates the theatre. From classical to ragtime to Gershwin, this actor's musical mastery is truly phenomenal, and, if that wasn't enough, his ability to joke with the audience and relate Liberace's life story at the same time is beyond amazing. The program states that Daryl Wagner has been playing Liberace for well over twenty years, and all that experience is certainly evident on the stage of the Ivoryton Playhouse.

The conceit of the show is that Liberace has, more or less, come back from the great beyond in order to relate his own life and career. Unfortunately, the play itself is not quite as riveting as Daryl Wagner's performance. Still, Liberace! is extremely informative in giving an overview of the star's life. For instance, the audience finds out about his father's expectations that Liberace become a strictly classical pianist. But Liberace was too much of a showman and a grand entertainer for that, and the play certainly shows the range of talent and expertise this star possessed. The play also touches on Liberace's later years, including his great love of a man named Scott, as well as his death in the 1980s from AIDS.

The shift in Liberace! from the laughs at the beginning of the show to the more serious tone near the conclusion is not always a smooth one, but there are definitely compensations. Above all, there is Daryl Wagner's monumental performance. Whether he is playing the piano, coming down to the audience to work the crowd, or dressing in the most fabulous of outfits, this actor offers alchemy in his every moment onstage. It is highly recommended that you get to Ivoryton Playhouse to experience this magic for yourself, for, as one man shows go, Liberace! is pretty special and Daryl Wagner is simply fabulous. There is talk that Liberace! is aiming for a Broadway run, but, if I were you, I wouldn't wait-when a portrayal comes along as resplendent as Daryl Wagner's personification of Liberace, it demands to be seen immediately.

Liberace! continues performances at Ivoryton Playhouse through November 15, 2015. For tickets, please visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org or call the box office at 860-767-7318.


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