Following his week at London’s Vaudeville Theatre in May this year, Trevor Ashley is back in the West End for one night only, after a brief UK tour. Michael Darvell spoke to the man behind Liza (on an E), his show about the great Minnelli.
In fact Trevor Ashley is Liza, or at least he is playing the diva in his hilarious one-man (woman?) show about the life and career of the superstar singer/actress and daughter of the legendary Judy Garland. The Australian actor began doing drag shows in his native country until he eventually refined the act to include several of the world’s most celebrated popular divas. When did he add Liza Minnelli to his CV?
“I have been doing Liza for about four years. I’ve always loved her as she is one of my favourite performers. I first saw her in The Ultimate Event when she was with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. I just adored her from seeing her then, and decided I would get to know what she was about. I choose performers who have very obvious traits and flaws because they are the people you would like to see being ‘done’ – someone who is a brand. If you look at Liza in her heyday, she was truly extraordinary, but if you look at her these days, she’s actually just quite funny and sad in the way that she has gone. She had a hard life through the 1970s and 80s, but she still has that spark and talent that you can still see. Her songbook is quite extraordinary and I do sound like her vocally, so my show is really the concert you would like to see Liza do.”
Liza (on an E) covers all the major events in Minnelli’s life: from her marriage to singer Peter Allen to her short-lived relationship with David Gest, from her being a member of an amazing showbusiness family with mother Judy Garland, father Vincente Minnelli, sister Lorna Luft and brother Joey, to all the pill-popping and other troubles she encountered on the way. But, unlike her mother, she is a survivor. Liza (on an E) includes all the songs she is famous for, from ‘Cabaret’ etc to some wickedly hilarious parody numbers. Of course it is all done with extreme affection as Ashley is one of her biggest fans. I wondered if Minnelli had seen the show herself.
“No, she hasn’t, and it would be strange if she did. I would have a lot of trouble if Liza were in the audience. I would feel very self-conscious about her being there, so that would be very hard for me to take.”
How did Ashley get into doing impersonations and who else does he do?
“I was working basically as a drag queen in pubs and clubs and we had to do spot numbers in various bars, so I started doing different people, starting with Shirley Bassey and eventually wound up with a repertoire of several different performers. Liza was the first one I did in a full-length, two-hour show with a band. That was after I had done Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in Australia, and I wanted to do something else. So when I heard that Liza was coming to Australia to do a tour, I thought what better time than now to do it. Other people I do include Cher, Tina Turner, Bette Midler, Judy Garland and Shirley Bassey, plus a few others who are more like just jokes. I have actually duetted at the same time with Judy and Liza. I have another show called I’m Every Woman where I do a lot of people in one show. I also have my Shirley Bassey show which is called Diamonds Are For Trevor. I do that quite often with different orchestras. I hope to bring the Bassey show to the UK next as I think it would go down very well. I have to remember sometimes who I am and what show I’m doing!”
Apart from Priscilla, Ashley has been in other stage shows such as Jerry Springer – the Opera, The Producers and Hairspray. One show he would love to do is Torch Song Trilogy as one of his heroes is its writer Harvey Fierstein. He never seems to stop working, so what plans does he have for the future?
“I’ve been around the world three times and I often play in international waters such as on the Atlantic gay cruises. I’ve been all around Australia, to Vienna and, of course, to the West End of London last May. I have been to a lot of places and hope to go to America very soon. That’s the plan, anyway. At the moment I am very excited to be doing London again and the UK tour.”
* Liza (on an E) plays Brighton Theatre Royal (30 September); Manchester Dancehouse (1 and 2 October); Liverpool Auditorium at Echo Arena (5 October); and London’s Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue (7 October)