Writer and Director: Cillian O’Donnachadha
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
While Liza Maxwell is currently winning plaudits on tour for her portrayal of Judy Garland in End of The Rainbow, Somewhere Under The Rainbow sheds light on the early life of her daughter, Liza Minnelli.
Garland herself opens the show, as black and white film film plays on the back wall. Through a medley of songs and monologue, this one woman show gives us a glimpse into the early life of a woman trying to simultaneously emulate while also carve her own path away from her iconic mother.
It’s a daunting task to portray Minnelli. After Elvis, Liza must surely rank among the most impersonated of singers, though often she is portrayed as a caricature. Here, Sharon Sexton does more than mimic the singer, she embodies her.
From the moment of her entrance as she turns toward the audience, the likeness is uncanny. It’s more than a physical look, however. Sexton masters Minnelli’s instantly recognisable gesture, doe eyed look and voice. And what a voice it is. From channeling her inner Ethel Merman in a rousing Gypsy Medley, to the vulnerability of Cabaret’s Maybe This Time, every inflection is pitch perfect Liza.
This though is so much more than a Liza tribute act. Cillian O’Donnachadha’s script takes us inside Minnelli’s dressing room as she prepares to take to the stage. She shares with us her admiration and frustration with her mother, her battles to establish her own path resulting in sleeping rough on a park bench in Central Park and for being rejected for roles because she was either too like her mother or not enough like her mother. It was never going to be an easy relationship and the recollection of a bout of upstaging during a joint concert at the London Palladium provides just one of many comical moments of the evening.
Despite being overshadowed by Garland, it is perhaps the death of her ‘Mamma’ that shows her real vulnerability and her decent into addiction. There is though, a twist. In an evening dominated by two strong women, it is left to Vincente Minnelli to provide the emotional catharsis. While her mother gave her the drive and ambition it was her father who taught her to dream.
As Kander and Ebb’s soaring and touching Seeing Things brings the hour to a close there’s a palpable sense of release. This is more than a celebration of the, sometime turbulent, life of an icon, it’s is a celebration of the power of a one woman show and Sexton’s tour de force performance. Now more accustomed to playing huge arenas, this is the closest many of us will ever get to having the legend of Liza sing a mere feet away from us.
A faultless production that will linger long in the memory. A few tears may be shed along the journey but ultimately this is the tale of one of life’s great survivors.
Runs until 13 May 2016 | Image: Contributed