Many celebrities are loathe to admit that they've "had work done." But in the case of the creators to About Face Theatre's We Three Lizas, they freely admit that a number of nips, tucks and implants have been performed on their 2012 holiday musical inspired by that legendary Hollywood and Broadway gay icon Liza Minnelli.
"It wasn't fully cooked," admits playwright/actor Scott Bradley, who co-authored We Three Lizas with composer/lyricist Alan Schmuckler under the direction of Scott Ferguson. "It could be kind of loose and fun, but the story was kind of all over the place."
On top of co-writing We Three Lizas, Bradley was also acting in the show as "Liza Is," a drag version of Liza Minnelli who functioned as a sort of Ghost of Christmas Present in this Dr. Seussian-queer take on Charles Dickens' holiday classic A Christmas Carol. Since there was only an abbreviated three-month period to write the show after previous About Face Theatre artistic director Bonnie Metzgar green-lit the production, Bradley felt We Three Lizas didn't quite live up to its potential.
"Because Alan needed to work on music and I wrote the lyrics first, I was writing songs for characters that I hadn't even written scenes for yet," said Bradley, who countered when asked if he had taken on too much by writing and performing that he was working in the same way that he usually did on previous campy musicals he co-created like Alien Queen and Carpenters Halloween for The Scooty & JoJo Show.
"Thank goodness people loved it and really enjoyed what it was about last year," said Bradley, even more grateful that new About Face Theatre artistic director Andrew Volkoff liked the show so much that he found funding for We Three Lizas to undergo further revisions for a 2013 revival.
In revamping We Three Lizas, Bradley says nine songs have been jettisoned and replaced while four of the original ones have been retained in the score of about 15 numbers. The ethereal drag queen character of Mystique, The Queen of Wishes, has also been erased in favor of placing more emphasis on the past, present and future iterations of Liza Minnelli herself throughout the show.
Bradley also says the redemption stories for its lead Scrooge-like gay designer character of Conrad Ticklebottom ( Scott Duff ) and his overworked lesbian underling named Reggie ( Dana Tretta ) have been further clarified. Bradley has also relinquished his performing role as Liza Is to actor Mark David Kaplan.
"The really nice thing for me is that I've been able to step away and just write it," said Bradley, who has nothing but praise for Kaplan's funny impersonation of modern-day Liza Minnelli. "I'm really able to see it from the outside."
In addition to a few Chicago workshops, Volkoff notably produced We Three Lizas in a concert reading this past July at New York's esteemed Public Theater, which immediately sold out.
"We had costumes and people were almost off book, so for me it was almost like a full performance," said actress Danielle Plisz, who was nominated for a Jeff Award for her turn in We Three Lizas as "Liza Was," a spot-on impersonation of Liza Minnelli at the height of her performing powers in the 1970s. "There were some people there who knew Liza, and [director Scott Ferguson] was speaking with them and they were very complimentary of my performancethat meant a lot."
"They were [a few of Liza Minnelli's associates] there to feel it out to make sure it wasn't something nasty or derogatory toward her," said Bradley, adding that he and Schmuckler aren't averse to poking fun at Liza's marriages to gay men or her unique diction issues in We Three Lizas.
"It's a love letter to Liza. She's our symbol of resilience and reinvention," said Bradley.
When asked just why Liza Minnelli was settled upon as the powerful trinity of ghosts for this queer take on A Christmas Carol, Bradley mentioned her unique place among Hollywood and Broadway royalty, considering how she is the daughter of MGM star Judy Garland and film director Vincent Minnelli with lyricist Ira Gershwin as her godfather and family friend Kay Thompson writing the whole series of Eloise in the Plaza book based upon her.
Then there's also the time that Bradley first met Minnelli more than 20 years ago at a celebrity-filled party in New York thrown by producer/director Harold Prince for his daughter, Daisy.
"I was just a 23-year-old kid agog by all the Broadway royalty there," Bradley said. "And then Liza walked in with pianist Billy Stritch after a concert, and you could just feel the whole energy in the room just lift. It wasn't that she carried some arrogant diva-dom, it was this infectious buoyancy. That she could do that in a room of her peers, there was something about that energy of hers that was just magic."
About Face Theatre's revamped We Three Lizas is now in previews through Sunday, Dec. 1, with an official press opening at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. The regular run is through Sunday, Jan. 5, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20 ( $10 students ) for previews and $45 ( $20 students ) during the regular run. Call 773-327-5252 or visit www.aboutfacetheatre.com or www.stage773.com for more information.