The man who so outrageously defined the term “making a spectacle of yourself” had a storied career and did much to erase the stigma of being “different” continues to be celebrated and remembered at the Liberace Museum “just a bit off the strip” in Las Vegas. Greg Osborne’s visit—part of his “Gay Getaways” series—rekindles the life, times and tunes of Mr. Showmanship but would benefit from a script for the interview segment.
Winner of the Liberace play-alike contest, Wes Winters, begins the production with a couple of musical numbers (Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” and a truncated Gershwin medley) that are notable for characteristic vigour and enthusiasm but are miles away from the master’s technical ability and captivating voice. Still, audiences will enjoy the trip back in time (Liberace’s last performance was November 2, 1986 at Radio City Music Hall) when the fabled pianist/businessman enjoyed enormous popularity. Not surprisingly, the brief clips of actual concerts intercut with Winters make the eye and ear cry out for more of the genuine article.
Osborne’s post-performance chat never found a thread upon which to weave his subject’s vast experience into a cohesive, informative whole. Frequently interrupting and slurping from an unnecessary water bottle on camera drags down the pace. Here’s to a trip to journalism school.
Fortunately, the bulk of the show is a guided tour (Tanya Combs, manager of museum operations both knows her subject and was able to lead the conversation in an informative, detail-rich manner). The screen is filled with cars (the Volkswagen Rolls Royce could never be more in tune with present-day re-aversion to gas guzzlers), costumes (from saucy hot pants to chicken and turkey feathers that never looked so good) and gifted jewellery from the flamboyant musician’s high-powered friends. Combs’ favourite quote, “My clothes may look funny but they’re making the money” couldn’t be more appropriate in her magnificent palace of memorabilia.
More than just a showcase, the proceeds from the museum are funnelled over to the Liberace Foundation (not difficult given that both organizations share the same board members) whose mandate is to assist young artists (awarded by merit) in hopes that, like their benefactor, financial help in the early years will produce important careers in all fields of performing and creative arts.
Yet the most important component of Liberace’s legacy comes from his brash courage to bring glittering musical acts to a previously dark stage, forever illuminating the creative spark and giving “permission” for others to take the next step: “I’ll be seeing you” like never before. JWR