Review: ‘A hilarious celebration’ ★★★★★ Liza’s Back! (is Broken), Underbelly Festival

Being the daughter of an icon can have its downsides. Despite halcyon days spent living in the Savoy Hotel and touring the world, Liza Minnelli had a tricky start in life and learned early on that having Judy Garland as your mother does not guarantee success.

Despite the many downsides Liza Minnelli grew to be a stage and screen legend in her own right and Trevor Ashley’s affectionate takeoff of the star in his acclaimed cabaret show Liza’s Back! (Is Broken) is a hilarious celebration of the unique personality.

Trevor Ashley as Liza Minnelli

Ashley’s comedy drag show offers a musical display of such a high-caliber; you almost don’t need the quips in between to string the songs together, although lines like “From the waist down I’m a man and from the waist up I’m wasted” are suitably greeted with raucous laughter. Such is his vocal prowess; the impersonator embodies the star with a powerful and authentic sound, married with enough tongue in cheek humour, to keep comedy fans on their toes.

With many of Minnelli’s classics given a masterful rendering alongside other musical theatre favourites (including a wonderful melancholic mash-up of “We’re Off to See the Wizard” and “The Wizard and I” to close act one) aficionados and new comers are equally catered for and are treated to a show filled with fun and even a bit of frantic dance.

Liza’s Back! (is broken) is at Underbelly Festival from 27 June until 2 July

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Review: ‘A visual feast’ ★★★★ The Wind in the Willows, London Palladium

Us Brits are known throughout the world for our classic literature and particularly for the charm and simplicity of some of our children’s works, but it’s a challenge to bring the ever-so-twee tales up to date.

Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows is quintessentially English, but with woodland characters rather than humans carrying the story, it makes the task of bringing the traditional riverside tale into the modern era slightly easier.

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And with the now well-established musical theatre team of Stiles and Drewe once again collaborating with Julian Fellowes – after their huge success with Half a Sixpence – audiences at the London Palladium are treated to a heartening family musical with humour at its core.

There is something for everyone in Rachel Kavanaugh’s production with enough slapstick for the little ones, teamed with an awe-inspiring set design from Peter McKintosh and an additional element of sarcasm (particularly from the excellent Simon Lipkin as Ratty) to entertain the more pessimistic theatregoers.

It’s not a show that caters particularly well for feminists however, with Denise Welch’s Mrs. Otter failing to add any girl power to the plot known for its boy’s club theme and a song in which Toad transforms into a women in order to escape prison is pretty cringe worthy.

There are however, some lovely little nods for musical theatre fans; you might recognise Toad’s Prisoner number, and the families of animals (especially the hedgehogs), are just so adorable, you can forgive the story for being a little pedestrian and staid.

Craig Mather’s Mole is wonderfully wholesome, while Rufus Hound plays the hatefully hapless Toad with a wealth of humour.

The naughty weasels, stoats and foxes – led by the rock star-like Neil McDermott – steal the show and it’s such a clever twist to have the foxes clad in huntsman attire.

This adds to what is the show’s real draw, as a spectacle, and together with an enormous steam train, which fills the stage to the meandering riverbank bedecked with reeds and rushes, this show is a visual feast.

The Wind in the Willows is at the London Palladium until 9 September

Photos by Darren Bell

Review: “This adventure makes a perfect night out” ★★★★★ Alice’s Adventures Underground

The Vaults at Waterloo are an unusual and pretty spooky venue and as such provide the perfect backdrop for an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, writes Nicky Sweetland.

Carroll’s beloved tale itself blends the fantastical with the sinister and Les Enfants Terribles’ Alice’s Adventures Underground goes even further to establish a world where you don’t ever feel quite comfortable but at the same time totally exhilarated.

First performed at The Vaults back in 2015 the Olivier Award nominated immersive experience has received an overhaul and introduced 10 new characters and a different layout in order to make audiences feel completely submerged within the fairytale world from the very first moment they enter.

The bar area alone is a work of art, with a black and white forest and multilevel lounge area where you can sup on one of the specially designed cocktails. In fact, you can even buy edible cocktails if you are feeling more of an ‘eat me’ rather ‘drink me’ vibe going on.

Your penchant for consuming either liquid or solid is eventually how you choose your path around the myriad of tunnels and fascinating subterranean hallways, as after a brief mooch around the study – which is filled with so much detail you could spend hours pouring over the intricate design – you are invited to fall down the rabbit hole and select your pathway into Wonderland.

The experience you then receive is a mixture of theatrical performances, theme park fun and circus tricks, but all in perfect measure, so as to ensure the pace is always maintained and the 90 minutes flies by.

You can even join in with some crazy speed dating or have a game of Flamingo croquet in the bar afterwards to make the adventure last a bit longer.

Beautifully designed and wonderfully performed this adventure makes a perfect night out.

Alice’s Adventures Underground is at The Vaults until 23 September