THE AU: MUSIC

Arts Interview: Performer Trevor Ashley talks about his latest cabaret "Liza's Back! (Is Broken)" in Melbourne

The ever so colourful Trevor Ashley is at it again. The man seriously does not stop. Having just ended a two-year national tour with Les Miserables and directing the Hayes Theatre Co’s latest show Heathers, Ashley has now focused and channelled his energies into the leading woman in his life; Liza Minnelli.

First off, we have to talk about the end of the Australian tour of Les Miserables that happened over the weekend. It’s been, what, two years?

It was pretty crazy. There were 588 performances; it’s a long time to do a show.

How are you feeling about it all? Are you relieved or you don’t really have time to feel anything?

Oddly, I didn’t have time to feel anything cause I opened Heathers up in Brisbane two weeks ago and Liza is opening tomorrow, so it’s just crazy.

Do you think you’re a workaholic?

Absolutely. It’s shocking, but it’s great and I love what I do and that’s the main thing, I guess.

The viral video of the cast and crew doing ‘Lady Marmalade’ was sensational. Does this give us a sneak peak into the shenanigans that go on backstage?

Yeah we always had a good time backstage on the show. You had to laugh on Les Miserables cause it’s so depressing. I could have a laugh on stage but no one else really did. It was a lot of fun and the cast was fabulous. [They’re] such a great group of people.

You directed the Hayes Theatre Co’s latest show Heathers, which is a screaming success and currently on a bit of a national tour. How proud are you of this show?

I’m just so thrilled with it. We won two Sydney Theatre Awards last night for Best Costume Design and Lauren McKenna for Best Newcomer, so that was very exciting. We were nominated for nine awards so it was pretty huge; we got more nominations that any other show. I’m really, really thrilled with it. It’s a beautiful production and we can’t wait to bring it to Melbourne.

You’re a man of many talents. You’re a director, writer, actor, singer, drag queen; is there anything you can’t do?

I’m not great at dancing (burst out laughing). I can make it look enough like I should be, but I can do the choreography when they tell me what to do. I’m not good at sports either. I’m terrible at those.

You’re back with a brand new cabaret called Liza’s Back! (is broken) which is a great title. You love a bit of a pun in your show titles. What is it about them that you love?

I sort of think you have to get people in to know its going to be a funny and fun show. My audiences certainly want to come along and have a laugh and hear some great music you have to keep it fresh.

Is Liza’s Back! (is broken) a follow-up to Liza (on an E)?

Yes. In Liza (on an E) I did a few songs she’d never done before and then a whole lot of her hits. So in this show, we’re not doing that; we’re mainly doing songs she’s never sung. So for me, it was coming up with ideas and ways of doing a new Liza show without repeating half of the last one and I wouldn’t do that to my audience; I wouldn’t feel right about that. Out of the 20 songs I’m doing, 16 are new so its quite complicated at the moment cause I’m trying to remember them all. It’s really great music; all those classic Broadway roles where you think: “God Liza would have been great in that”or, “God Liza would have been terrible in that.” It’s a mix of both.

Why do you have such a strong connection with Liza?

I’ve always loved her from when I was a kid and when I figured out how to do her, and got such a reaction from people, it became something I had to keep doing, and I really do love performing as her. She’s very funny, she has such a style of her own and it’s great to create these new arrangements. I’ve worked with Max Lambert to do that and we made them into these huge Liza, big-band versions of everything, so I think it works really well.

Have you ever met Liza or has she ever heard about either of your shows?

I don’t know whether she personally has heard about them, but all her people have heard and it’s very funny. This one night I went to see Barbra Streisand’s sister perform in New York, and I know her director Richard J Alexander – who directs Barbra’s concerts, Bette Midler and Bernadette Peters – and we met at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival years ago and have been friends ever since. So Richard said come and meet Rosalind, who is Barbra’s sister, and then we went out to drinks afterwards and he of course knowing what I do, turned around and said, “Trevor, I want you to meet Liza’s PA and publicist”, and then left me there. The PA was lovely but the publicist said to me, “I know who you are and I don’t like what you do.”

OMG. What do you say to that?

I don’t know. I just said, “Oh well, I’m sorry about that.” I’m always one degree of separation from Liza; I don’t think we’ll ever meet. I don’t think anyone will let me near enough now.

Do you hope that one day, you will reach Liza Minnelli status and someone will do a cabaret based on you?

I think that would be the most fantastic thing in the world and I’d be there roaring with laughter. I don’t know if they’d be any good at it though.

Who would you want to play you?

I actually have no idea.

We’re already two and a half weeks into 2016. What’s on the to-do list that you haven’t already done?

Most of my year is booked up, but I want to get back overseas. I really loved performing over there so I’m hoping to take Liza’s Back! (is broken)back to London and do the West End again.

---------

Liza’s Back! (is broken) is showing at The Arts Centre Melbourne from January 20-31 with tickets on sale now from https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/comedy-cabaret/lizas-back-is-broken?m=performances