Peggy Sue Dunigan

Jack Forbes Wilson shines in The Rep’s LIBERACE!

By - Nov 23rd, 2010 11:43 am
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Jack Forbes Wilson as Liberace. Photos by Michael Brosilow.

The New York Times deemed him the “guru of glitter.” It’s almost hard to believe that Vladziu Valentino Liberace, better known to the rest of the world as simply “Liberace,”  grew up right here in West Allis.

Another Milwaukee artist, playwright and director Brent Hazelton pays homage the life and larger-than-life persona of “Mr. Showmanship” in the glittering world premiere of LIBERACE! at  The Rep’s Stackner Cabaret.

The legendary child prodigy-cum-international performer is reincarnated on stage by Milwaukee celebrity Jack Forbes Wilson and his astounding talents as an actor and pianist.

Whether performing Paderewski’s Minuet, “The Twelfth Street Rag,” or Liberace’s familiar “I’ll Be Seeing You,” Wilson’s fingers alight on the pianos keys like angel’s wings, and sound equally heavenly. Wilson completes the almost two-hour production entirely by memory, without ever using one musical score.

Jack Forbes Wilson as Liberace. Photos by Michael Brosilow.

Remembering Liberace as a television celebrity, or later as a worldwide entertainer (who sold out New York’s Radio City Hall’s 70,000 seat auditorium– twice) becomes inconsequential. The Rep’s Artistic Associate Hazelton writes a biographical outline to Liberace’s life, filling the monologues with empathetic and insightful experiences. The audience gleans an understanding to the man behind the feathered and sequined capes, a man who “wished to meld his two warring musical ambitions between Rachmaninoff and Ragtime.”

The performance instills humor and melodious harmony to the upcoming holiday season, even when Liberace crosses a few boundaries in 2010 that he was otherwise unable to do in the 1950’s. If the first moments in the performance only warm the audience’s attentions, within a few musical numbers Wilson engages the cabaret — similar to the real life Liberace.

The second act uncovers secrets that were  inexplicable in the straight-laced 1950’s, and blown-up through the tabloids during the ‘70’s as the country wrestled with an AIDS epidemic encroaching on the artistic community. These revelations dimmed the lights on this fascinating personality and pianist, a sensitive man who attempted to “fill the world with love and happiness through music.”

Hazelton’s world premiere spotlights the extraordinary talent Milwaukee offers in acting, directing and playwriting, while the Stackner Cabaret’s LIBERACE! dazzles the eyes and ears. The brilliant lights and costumes combined with Wilson’s expert performance pay a fitting tribute to one of the world’s iconic and entertaining virtuosos.

The Rep’s Stackner Cabaret presents LIBERACE! through January 16. For tickets: 414.224.9490.

Categories: Theater

0 thoughts on “Jack Forbes Wilson shines in The Rep’s LIBERACE!”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wilson was terrific in this one-man show. The Journal-Sentinel review was far too understated for Wilson’s limitless energy, talent, and enthusiasm.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This was an important and timely piece of work
    and clearly a labor of pure love. Liberace
    arrangements {Ayrs}were used in the performance,
    as well as very strong piano playing throughout.

    It brought thorough research on liberace’s life
    to the stage without going too far and destroying
    for a second time the man’s dignity by doing such
    things as reading the “Confidential” article which
    was extremely rough. A copy of that very issue was
    used as a prop in the play. We always sense in this
    portrayal a basic and simple rightness about
    Liberace’s understanding of human values which
    is the real reason he he had the following he had.
    There was always a grounding–a reference–beneath
    the act which made him stand tall.

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