Review: Performing Tonight! Liza Minnelli’s Daughter (Neo-Futurists)

     
     

Art, Life, Reality, Blurred Lines, and Who’s Daddy?

     
     

Joseph Schupbach, Mary Fons and Donnell Williams in 'Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli's Daughter" at Neo-Futurists

  
The Neo-Futurists present
     
  
Performing Tonight:
   
    Liza Minnelli’s Daughter
  
  
Written by Mary Fons
Directed by Sonja Moser
at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland (map)
through June 4  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The liner notes for Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli’s Daughter claim that this show is much more than an impression, dance numbers, and a revue. Playwright Mary Fons claims that this is a reckoning. I am not sure for whom the reckoning tolls. Ms. Fons is a startling likeness of Liza Minnelli circa "Cabaret". The show opens with her giving a history of her love for lace-up platform ballet slippers. From there Fons spins a dizzying tale of adoration that turns into an identity crisis whereupon she rejects all that has hurt her and reinvents herself as Mary Minnelli.

Mary Fons as Liza Minnelli's daughter Mary, from Neo-Futurists' "Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli's Daughter".Mary Minnelli wants to make us believe a fable from the cult of celebrity. She claims to be a Garland as in Judy who came from crazy Mama Gumm. There is plenty of crazy to go around as the world of Mary Minnelli is revealed. Liza Minnelli’s Daughter has a wonderful Greek Chorus holding up the mirror of truth and pain throughout the performance. Donnell Williams and Joseph Schupbach are the Fosse dancers, the wardrobe masters, the devil’s advocates holding the glaring spotlight, and the friends who talk Mary Minnelli off of the ledge.

The choreography is really quite good. Ms. Fons has the lithe synchronized moves, jazz hands, and long legs like Minnelli. Donnell Williams fits the physicality of a Fosse dancer and does a smashup Judy Garland with only a little black dress as the drag. The comedy is written with a dark and sardonic edge. Mary Minnelli sings a tribute to Liza who sang a tribute to her mother Judy Garland. Donnell brings out a tiny child’s piano to accompany the recorded soundtrack. The song is a replay of Liza singing "Mammy" to Judy Garland. It should be revealed that Donnell is Black and gamely plays along until the song ends. He utters one line-"Mammy"-accompanied by a look that says ‘seriously girlfriend…Mammy?’ I found it hysterical and indicative of the wonderful chemistry of this cast.

Joseph Schupbach plays the other half of Team Mary Minnelli. He is quite a wonderful dancer and has a brilliant comic presence as Mary’s best gay boyfriend. It is brilliant casting to have Schupbach juxtaposed to Williams. Joseph has as slight paunch and wears suspenders but has all of the moves down. His character is not only a Greek Chorus member but an alter ego to Mary Minnelli.  Joseph seems like the kid from Iowa who puts on a show in the barn with the neighborhood kids just like Judy and Mickey. He has some great comments that drip with just enough acid to etch painful memories in Mary Minnelli’s psyche.

There are actually many similarities between Mary Fons and Liza Minnelli other than the startling looks. Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli made legendary bad choices in husbands. The exes were overbearing, codependent , and quite often gay. Mother and daughter struggled with health problems and addictions in mammoth proportions. Liza Minnelli had several miscarriages and is asked by Geraldo Rivera (he of the cult of celebrity news) if she wants children even after all that happens. There it is projected onto a bulb lined screen larger than life and was it just me or did everyone still flinch at Rivera’s insensitive questioning in the name of ‘journalism’? It is both good and not so good that Fons turns the microscope on her personal health crises. It is horrible to hear of her parallel suffering with her ‘mother’ Liza in that she cannot have children. She tells of extended stays at the famed Mayo Clinic where she spies upon the celebrity ward of the hospital. It is uncomfortable to hear Fons speak of the Egyptian cotton sheets and custom meals in the celebrity ward. I flinched at the comment that ‘surely Liza Minnelli would be in the celebrity ward’ at Mayo. Suffering becomes a touchstone that goes on for way too long and drags the last part of Act I.

Joseph Schupbach, Mary Fons and Donnell Williams in 'Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli's Daughter" at Neo-Futurists

It was enough to know that Ms. Fons shares an inability to have children and other medical crises with Liza Minnelli. It’s when she begins to draw the tabloid parallels wherein every detail is laid bare and devoured by a rabid public that I felt it went too far. Ms. Fons does not have a colon due to autoimmune disease. She recounts the pikes in her arms and near death experiences right out of the National Enquirer. It felt hammer handed after the third mention of the pikes in her arms and veins leading to her heart.

On the other hand Ms. Fons performs the transformation to Mary Minnelli with the same frantic and wonderfully over the top energy that Liza Minnelli seems to emanate. The drugged out days of Studio 54 are done in a wonderful dream sequence where members of the audience are invited to dance in the stage area. The wall is broken as they discuss whether or not they can really drink on stage and Fons gamely yells for the iced tea standing in for Jack Daniels and Splenda standing in for piles of cocaine. The references to Hedy Weiss’ remarks about the Neo-Futurists space being ‘a dump over a funeral home’ got to be a little tired as well. We get it. You all are kicking edgy in your face theatre butt and Weiss can suck it.

Fons’ performance is remarkable to watch just for the physicality of it. She is soaked in perspiration and it seems as if all of her nerves are exposed when she portrays Mary Minnelli trapped between realities. She manages to belt out some songs, run on a speeding treadmill, and recreate the "Cabaret" scene with updated music from the post modern icons-Madonna and Lady Gaga. It is a jaw dropping experience.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
   
   

Donnell Williams, Mary Fons and Joseph Schupbach in 'Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli's Daughter" at Neo-Futurists

Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli’s Daughter runs Thursdays , Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm through June 4th at The Neo-Futurarium at 5153 N. Ashland Ave. in Chicago.  Tickets are $15, $10 for students/seniors with ID, or pay-what-you-can on Thursdays. (Reserve tickets online).  Yes it really is over a funeral home but the brilliant creativity that is the life blood of the company gives off light and life!

  
  

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The Neo-Futurists announce their 22nd Season

THE NEO-FUTURISTS ANNOUNCE THEIR 22nd SEASON OF ORIGINAL WORK

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Prime-Time Season

Prime-time shows run Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland (at Foster) in Andersonville. Tickets are $15, $10 for students/seniors with ID, or pay-what-you-can during previews and on Thursdays. For tickets or information, visit www.neofuturists.org or call The Neo-Futurist Hotline at 773-275-5255.

 

Aug 19 – Sept 25 Daredevils’ Hamlet
  Created and curated by Ryan Walters  (bio after the fold)
      
  Channeling the 2005 hit Daredevils, the men in jumpsuits take competition to a new level in this meta-destruction of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Director Halena Kays returns to direct this thematic adaptation of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, by challenging feats of revenge, passion, and failure. The Daredevils prove there’s no better way to feel alive than by exploring a show that deals with copious amounts of death.
     
   
Feb 5 – March 12 Laika Dog in Space
  by Rob Neill, Eevin Hartsough, Jill Beckman and Carl Riehl
    
  East meets Midwest when the NY Neos bring their 2009 Ontological Incubator hit to the Chicago stage. Part science lesson, part Russian folklore and part introspective interpretation, Laika Dog In Space uses original music, dance and puppetry to help tell the story of Laika, the first mammal in space, and to discuss the impact of her life. Arrive early to take advantage of a living installation takes the audience through various stations where they listen, confess, create and experiment. And of course, the step back in time to the mid-80’s Soviet space program wouldn’t be complete without a helping of borscht!
     
      
April 30 – June 4 Performing Tonight! Liza Minnelli’s Daughter
   Conceived by Mary Fons (bio after the fold)
     
  What would you do if you believed you were destined for greatness but fate screwed it up? Life is hard, and Mary knows it all too well, but she is positive that her one-woman theatrical spectacle (featuring a cast of three) is a one-way ticket to the extraordinary life that she was supposed to lead – life as the daughter of Broadway and big screen legend, Liza Minnelli. In Performing Tonight! Liza Minnelli’s Daughter, Mary Fons is Mary Minnelli, a woman with a shaky past, but a bright future. Enthusiasm, delusion, ambition and a little bit of obsession blur the lines of fact and fiction in the Neo-Futurist prime time season closer.
     
     
ONGOING SHOW Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind
  The Neo-Futurists’ signature show, performed since 1988, is the longest-running production in Chicago history. Too Much Light… is an ever-changing attempt to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes. Each week the ensemble adds between two and twelve new plays to the menu. Every performance creates an unreproducible, living-newspaper collage of the comic and tragic, the political and personal, the visceral and experimental.
   
  TMLMTBGB runs Fridays and Saturdays at 11:30pm, Sundays at 7pm, Tickets $9 plus the roll of a six-sided die (so $10-$15)

tmlbgb-ensemble Ensemble for Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind

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