The Placer Performance Calendar


Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title Liberace Presents
Organization Sutter Street Theatre
Date(s) of show January 3-26, 2014
Reviewer Gerry Camp

Theatergoers who attend the musicals at the Sutter Street Theatre are familiar with the musical talent of John Wilder. His keyboard virtuosity in the recent Young Frankenstein and Holiday in the Hills filled the theater with the illusion of a whole orchestra.

What could be more perfect, then, than having Wilder take center stage as the most flamboyant pianist of the last half-century, none other than Liberace himself? In Sutter Street Theatre’s Liberace Presents, Wilder brings to the role a believable reproduction of Liberace’s exuberant piano style, his fingers flying up and down the keyboard.

And of course there are the costumes. At several points in his performance, Liberace leaves the stage to “get into something more spectacular.” When one of his outfits draws the audience’s applause, Wilder uses one of Liberace’s own lines: “I’m glad you like it—you paid for it.” Created by Sutter’s resident costumer Eileen Beaver, who also appears in the show as Carol Burnett sidekick Vickie Lawrence, the costumes almost steal the show (as the real Liberace’s were sometimes said to do).

But the reason to attend this totally entertaining trip down memory lane is to enjoy John Wilder’s music. Before he transforms himself into Liberace, he treats the audience to a brief set on his other instrument, the banjo. Virtually a self-taught musician (his father gave banjo lessons, but young John taught himself to play on his father’s instrument when his father wasn’t home) he plays with the same brio he demonstrates as Liberace on piano. He told me he took twenty-some piano lessons as a child, but hated them and soon quit—not playing, obviously, but taking lessons.

The program does not list the numbers “Liberace” performs, and they may vary from show to show. The two that I enjoyed the most were the Liberace version of Chop Sticks, and Liberace’s favorite song, The Impossible Dream. And he closes the show, after an audience-participation game of other performers’ theme songs, with his own theme song, I’ll Be Seeing You.

Wilder’s Liberace is not the whole show, of course. Making their appearance, usually during his costume changes, are his guest stars. Connie Mockenhaupt is a beautiful Carol Burnett who jokes and sings. In Burnett’s charwoman costume, she gets her head stuck in the grand piano—twice—dusting the strings while Liberace is playing, and she joins him in performing Chop Sticks. She and Eileen Beaver duet effectively as Carol and Vickie. Dian Hoel sings charmingly and dances spectacularly as Ann Miller, and Sharon Welling as Dinah Shore nearly takes the roof off the theater.

And I mustn’t fail to mention Mike Jimena’s several appearances as Rodney Dangerfield. He gets a couple of notes from Liberace, expecting to be asked to perform his whole set, but finding instead he has been instructed to take out the garbage. As always, he “gets no respect.” After missing the curtain call, Rodney appears on the darkened stage with the garbage bag and then exits by the wrong door. I suspect Mike had an earlier career as a stand-up comic himself, his timing and delivery are so good.

If you are too young to remember the real Liberace, you will not enjoy the show any less. The music of John Wilder and the performances of his guests make for an evening of total entertainment for young and old.

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