Fort Worth — When people of a certain age hear the word “cabaret,” the timeless Kander/Ebb musical with that title, and the movie with Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli, comes to mind. For some, “cabaret” recalls a small venue with show tunes, standards and a certain camp appeal. An Evening with Liza and Judy at Casa Mañana’s Reid Cabaret Theatre has all of the above, but it pares the cabaret experience back to its essentials: great performers singing classic songs in an intimate venue with feisty interaction with the audience.
The night starts with B.J. Cleveland as Liza in a charming and loving portrayal of the icon Liza Minnelli. You might be thinking that Liza performed by an actor in drag is going to be campy, tacky and trite. While clearly rooted in camp the performance is far more complex and engaging and B.J. works the room like the pro he is. The songs range from “When You’re Good to Mama” from Chicago, to a song about the oldest profession in “Good Time Girl," to some daytime delight in "Arthur in the Afternoon" from the musical The Act. A high point involves Liza grabbing an audience member and pulling them onstage, handing them a pair of maracas and belting out “Farmer Tan,” a brassy number from Pump Boys and Dinettes lauding the virtues of those who work outdoors.
Liza also let us know she had worked a “Halloween Miracle” and that we would soon be graced by a performance by her Mama. Liza rounds out her set with “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and then “Cabaret.”
The second half of the evening is a tour de force performance by Janelle Lutz as Judy Garland. As Judy, Janelle takes us from the sublime heartbreak of “The Man That Got Away” to the simple joy of “Smile.” She has impeccable timing and serious power with her vocals, never shrill and never veering into overacting. She also shows us the humor that Judy could bring to a night’s entertainment.
Accompanying both performers on piano is the young and talented Chris Widomski. The simplicity of a singer and piano works beautifully in the intimate Reid space.
The night ends with a pair of duets: “Timeless to Me” from Hairspray, with lyrics slightly altered to fit Liza and Judy, and the iconic duet of “Happy Days/Get Happy.” The pair creates that odd combination of loving bond between famous mother and daughter with the tension that never seems to leave the room. It is well worth the trip to Casa.
I know I will be getting tickets to A Very Judy Christmas produced by Uptown Players in December, to see the exquisite Lutz as Judy, in a show conceived and directed by B.J. Cleveland.