Despite its satire-friendly premise and some clever bits scattered throughout , Michael West’s mostly drag “Live! Fromthe Betty Ford Clinic!” stands a good chance of getting buried beneath the pounds of pancake makeup and Judy Garland mascara that will decorate the plethora of female impersonators hitting the boards during New York’s Stonewall 25 celebration this week. For all his enthusiasm and amiable charm, West is only intermittently on target in his impersonations, and his satire lacks a needed bite.
The premise, though perhaps better suited to an “SCTV” sketch, serves its purpose as a hanger on which West drapes his various gowns and tuxes. “Live!” is structured as a Jerry Lewis telethon for “CDCD”– Chronic Dysfunctional Celebrity Disorder. Any number of celebs are on hand for the telethon wherein “the stars are also the cause.”
Topping the lineup is West’s signature impersonation, Liza Minnelli. Having done Liza in other venues, West has her down pat, giggling and tic-filled. Other personae are spotty, from a decent Sammy Davis Jr. to the woefully inadequate Jerry Lewis and Ethel Merman. Indeed, West’s choices are a bit perplexing. If logic counted for anything — and it doesn’t really — mixing dead celebrities with the living would be a drawback.
More problematic, though, is West’s reliance on has-been stars who have been the staple of impersonators since Ed Sullivan owned Sunday nights. Jim Nabors?
Still, West does take good advantage of videotape that allows him to perform with his pre-taped self. Thus we get a Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme duet, and La Merman backed up by two of the Village People.
Production’s high points come mostly from lengthier taped segments that serve the dual function of allowing time for costume changes and providing West the opportunity to break from the rigid telethon format.
Not coincidentally, the two best segments display more edge than the rest of the show: a strung-out Liza giving a tour of the Betty Ford Clinic, and a commercial for Carol Channing’s upcoming door-to-door production of a two-minute “Hello, Dolly!”
“Well, I guess if you have to see ‘Hello, Dolly!,’ this is the one to see,” goes one underwhelmed testimonial.
The better moments of this show suggest West could benefit from some polished writing assistance, tighter direction and a more appropriate venue than the spartan Theater for the New City. His Liza deserves a comeback.