Liberace! is a moving and highly entertaining tribute to the performer and musician famous for his charm, glitz, and glamour. On a set reminiscent of his celebrated television program, Liberace relives the highs (and lows) of his prolific life, revealing the real person behind the persona of an enormously talented and acclaimed performer in American history. Interwoven with a rollicking piano score spanning classical and popular music from Chopin to “Chopsticks,” and Rachmaninoff to Ragtime, this solo-performer tour de force will have your audience cheering the life of an uniquely American icon.
The lights come up on the set. It is reminiscent of the general shape of the set of Liberace’s guild films syndicated television program of the early and middle nineteen fifties. A wind is heard as the house dims. After the sound passes a spotlight comes up and we see Liberace, not of the 1980’s but a younger more genuine Liberace who became a television idol in the nineteen sixties.
Liberace addresses the audience before he sits at the piano, telling them to call him Lee. He sits and plays a lively Boogie Woogie. During the number he starts a call and response using the audience, having them shout ‘hey!’ at the appropriate moments. Once he is finished he does not stop the entertainment, he plays the song again twice as fast.
Liberace introduces some of the crew in the theatre including the stage manager. He begins the evening by taking us back to his childhood years during the great depression. He explains how he started out playing classical music by the wish of his father, a French horn player. He tells stories of playing piano at Polish wedding, bar mitzvahs, juke joints and even stag parties. His father was never happy with the less classy gigs, but Liberace loved being an entertainer.
He goes on to explain how inspired he was by the concert pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski. He explains how his grandmother gave him an opportunity to meet the famous musician and play a composition for him. He went on to study at the Wisconsin Conservatory of music where he met his mentor for the next twenty years, Florence Bettray Kelly. Florence gave him just enough tough love to produce a disciplined performer who loved his craft. She entered him in several competitions in which he did very well.
He tells the story of his first major audition for the Chicago Symphony which he landed. While he got ready for that performance he played a restaurant called the Red Room. After he grew tired of that job, Florence helped him find work touring small towns in the upper Midwest.
It was on this tour that he had his first breakthrough as a performer. When he played a show in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, an audience member requested that he play “Three Little Fishies,” a pop song. At first he didn’t notice the humor but as he began to play it something sunk in. He loved to make the audience laugh and enjoy themselves. He went on to play the song as famous classical composers might have written it and the audience adored him.
He spent the next fifteen years developing his own brand, and refining his image. He was able to create a very large following. In New York he hooked on to the supper club circuit and toured coast to coast to receive nationwide exposure. The audience wasn’t very engaged in that sort of dinner setting so he began to tell jokes.
In those years he managed to book himself a gig in Vegas for the first time. When his brother, George, got out of the military, the two teamed up as an act and did well at the supper clubs. In nineteen forty-nine he did his first movie, (which wasn’t very good).
He goes on to tell us that hooking up with his manager, Seymour Heller helped boost his career. Eventually he met some television professionals and got his own show that ran locally in Los Angeles until it was picked up nationally. It ended up winning Two Emmy awards and played to an audience on two hundred and nineteen stations.
In nineteen fifty-three he sold two million records. His newly found T.V. career landed him another Las Vegas contract and his name became synonymous with that city. Also in nineteen fifty-two he managed to sell out the Hollywood Bowl. It was at those concerts that he began to experiment with a more extravagant wardrobe, something people could remember. He also coined his classic candelabrum atop his piano in those years.
By nineteen fifty-three Liberace was making over one million dollars a year. He was one of the biggest stars in America. He even got his chance to play some of the big New York venues like Carnegie Hall, where he unleashed his notorious rendition of “Chopsticks.” Liberace as a performer, however, did not impress the critics in New York. They denounced his showy and energetic style and grilled him on not being ‘classical’ enough. But the audience base was still there, and the next year he sold out Madison Square Garden. He was panned by critics as a joke once again and tried to sharpen his image to please them.
Something began to get in the way of Liberace repairing his image, though, when the Hollywood tabloids running stories about his private life. The stories alluded to Liberace being a homosexual or a ‘mamma’s boy,’ and culminated into a lawsuit. When Liberace played a show in London a columnist named William Connor who wrote under the pseudonym Cassandra published and awful article in the Daily Mirror. Liberace won the lawsuit against the magazine but the damage to his person was done.
He once again switched his attire to a more conservative look and tried to rebuild his fan base. That winter he was playing a Holiday inn in Pittsburgh and wanted to dry-clean his suit. There was a bad storm so he did it himself in his hotel room before the show. Half a song into the performance he collapsed onstage from acute kidney failure and was rushed to the local hospital. While nearly facing death he had a very spiritual intervention with a nun he imagined.
He decided at that point to change his persona. He created “Mr. Showmanship,” an extreme version of his flamboyant, talented entertaining personality and set out to begin playing Las Vegas again.
As Act two begins, Liberace re-enters to introduce “Mr. Showmanship.” He reveals his more extravagant costumes of the 70’s and 80’s and tells of how he recreated himself to boost the rest of his career after nearly dying. He brings an audience member onstage to do a little duet with him.
He explains how in Vegas he began to play the Frontier and then moved to the Riviera for a higher salary. The show began to get even more elegant, with elephants, fountains and the whole nine yards. He tells of the performers who stole some of their entertaining styles from him and reveals some of his more famous costumes.
At this point he makes a complete transition into “Mr. Showmanship,” and puts on what might have been one of his many Vegas shows.
As he leaves the embodiment of the persona he takes us through more of the history of Vegas, explaining how he moved to the Hilton after the Riviera.
As the nineteen eighties came about Liberace began to pull out all the stops, including playing Radio City Music Hall. As he goes to reveal his costume for the show he is shocked to see a cardboard stand up of his lover, Scott under the curtain. He is not ready to reveal this part of the story to the audience but is forced to.
Scott was eighteen when he met Liberace and knew nothing about his career. After they spent some time together there relationship grew serious. Liberace began to see him as more than just a lover, but as a sort of son. He hired the young boy to drive cars on and off stage at his shows.
After a while Scott fell into the party scene in Los Angeles, and the drug culture of the eighties. After Liberace had some friends to his house in Palm Springs without telling Scott the two had a massive blow out. Months later Scott had brought the story to the tabloids and was threatening to file a lawsuit against his former lover.
All of the drama stopped dead in its tracks though, when Liberace found that he had been diagnosed with AIDS. He kept performing, keeping the disease as a secret until he died. The autopsy and the tabloids revealed the truth to the public.
Liberace’s fan based stayed loyal, calling out the coroner who released the private information to the press and attending candle lit vigils and memorial services worldwide.
As the end of the performance dawns, we learn that Liberace has brought the audience here for more than just entertainment. This was his way of banishing his own fear about the truths that made his life and career so secretive and also thrilling. He ends the way he started, by introducing himself as Lee and sitting down at his piano.
Liberace! dazzles the eyes and ears.
Liberace: Male (20s-50s). (Also “Liberace” or Mr. Showmanship).
There is only one performer in the show, who plays Liberace. It should be noted, however, that there is at least two distinct versions of this character that exist within the play. The first is the ‘real’ Liberace of the syndicated Guild Films shows of the early 1950’s. The second is dictated by the playwright as “Liberace,” or Mr. Showmanship, and is the stereotypical persona associated with his performances in the 1970’s and 80’s.
Setting: Setting: Reminiscent of Liberace’s mid-1950s television program
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“A glitzy fun-filled musical paying tribute to the charming, one-of-a-kind entertainer.” –Axs
“Liberace reminds people of who he was, what he accomplished and, what he brought to the world.” –Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Smartly written. The show has about the right mix of chat and music.” –The Commercial Appeal
“Thumbs up. Hazelton’s script gives us glimpses of the man behind the mask.” –Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“One of the most sparkling satiric biographies to date.” –Express Milwaukee
“A nonstop, rapid-fire marathon of witty anecdotes and scintillating piano arrangements.” –Express Milwaukee
“Liberace dazzles the eyes and ears. A fitting tribute to one of the world’s iconic and entertaining virtuosos.” –Thirdcoast Digest
“Two riveting hours. This theatrical journey is especially appealing.” –Wisconsin Gazette
“A glorious tribute to the uncanny performer and gifted musician.” –Wisconsin Gazette
Materials: your materials will be sent to you two months prior to your opening date and will include everything necessary for your production and can be ordered in Printed or Digital format. Printed Materials are provided on unbound three-hole punched loose-leaf paper while Digital Materials are provided via email as downloadable PDF files for you to print in-house. All materials are yours to keep! No deposits, no returns.
The production materials for Liberace! include:
Production Scripts and Orchestrations:Piano (played live by actor)
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Director's Script – Single-sided script with space for director’s notes.