A history of "a la Liberace!" Act 2
A Rhinestone in the Rough
Now let me make something perfectly clear: I never intended this Liberace act to continue after my 4th birthday show. Ne-ver. It was to be fun and surprising and wonderful. And then 'hasta la vista.' But about two weeks before we opened, do you know what happened? Jillian suddenly informs me that Bo Ayars, Liberace's Music Director, lives in Portland. Huh? "Yeah, he plays piano over at Tony Starlight's. They're having a staff Christmas party tomorrow night. I'm going and you can be my date." Jillian worked for Tony's music club waiting tables, so it wasn't out of the question for me to tag along. But meet Bo Ayars? Chapter 9 of "Liberace: An Autobiography" Bo Ayars? What would I say? What would I wear? Breathe, dummy.
It's interesting the mental picture we get of someone before we meet them. Having not seen Bo before, I imagined him looking like a combination of Burt Bacharach and Marvin Hamlisch. Jillian and I entered Tony's club late: We'd had a rehearsal, and by the time we got there Tony was giving away the final White Elephant gifts. It only took me a few seconds to scan the room and make my guess. "That guy... that's Bo Ayars." He was sitting alone at a table near the stage and I could wait no longer. Jillian led me through the club, and when we approached he was all smiles. "Hello, Jillian!" he boomed. (What a voice and expression!) "Hey, Bo," replied Jillian. "I want you to meet someone. This is David Saffert and he's going to be playing..." Embarrassed, I interrupted. "I've read about you recently in a book, Bo. Liberace's autobiography." Bo was as delighted as he was surprised: Someone was reading that book. "Really?" He bellowed. (That voice again!) Bo and Jillian and I sat there and talked for about 15 minutes while the background noise seemed to completely disappear. I was tingling as Bo spouted on about his musical relationship with 'Mr Showmanship.' We were told playful stories about his conducting work in Las Vegas, Radio City Music Hall, the Sydney Opera House, and on and on. It was a fifteen minute talk that felt like fifteen seconds. Not wanting to overstay our welcome, we thanked Bo for his time and memories and retired to the bar. They call alcohol 'liquid courage.' Well, after a stiff Manhattan and a half hour to talk myself into it, I was ready to find Bo and tell him MY Liberace story.
He was about to leave. "Bo!" I shrieked as not to make a scene. And I spilled my saga. Bo listened with the degree of attention one gives another on a good first date. When I'd said all that I could say, I stood there exhausted, and waited. Again, he was all smiles. "I think that's wonderful," he finally said. "Let me give you some advice." I perked. "A lot of people remember Lee for his rings, his costumes, his homosexuality... but you know what he really wanted to be remembered for? As a pianist. Let me know how it goes." And that was that.
But that wasn't that. Because I emailed Bo the next week and invited him and his wife, Barbara, to the show. "Sounds good," he responded. "We'll be there opening night."
"There is no Try"
Sweet Jesus. The only living person who worked with Liberace more than anyone on the planet was coming to opening night. But I've seen enough "Star Wars" to have had Yoda's philosophy pounded into my head. And it doesn't matter if there's a reviewer in the audience or a Bo Ayars, you 'just do it.' (Additional thanks to Nike)
The show went very well. Jillian and Sammuel were terrific. And to be honest, I was concentrating so much on my act that I completely forgot about Bo and Barbara out there in the dark. That is, until I played Liberace's "Boogie Woogie." There's a music break in the Boogie Woogie where the band (we had bass & drums) yells, "HEY!" It's a little shtick Liberace had invented which invites the audience to join in with a collective "HEY!" during later music breaks. Well, at the first music break my band yelled the first "HEY!" And someone out in the dark joined in with a booming "HEY!" of his own. I'm sure you know who it was.
Bo and Barbara didn't stick around after the show. This worried me. But all panic was tossed aside that next morning as I opened a lengthy email Bo had sent. I read it and cried. Happy-cried. Bo's comments and praise were overwhelming. It was a kind of validation that I had never experienced before. He liked what was happening. And he could foresee a future that Jillian and I had never dreamed of.
Three Years Later
I have three outfits now, and a fourth is on it's way. My new costumer is Jason Bray, and my outfits are tailor made and based on originals. Sammuel, who played Truman Capote and made the first "Rhinestone Costume," was only part of those 4th year birthday shows. I'm happy to say that he now manages and conducts a 14-piece 1920's band called The Ne Plus Ultra Jass Orchestra. (I told you he can do anything!)
Our act is solid, but Jillian and I still meet up to work on music and talk about our material and shtick. These rehearsals are mostly for me so that I can get the giggles out before we hit the stage. Bo works on our arrangements. In fact, Bo arranged and conducted twenty numbers from our show for a 6-piece band that we performed September 2016 in Wisconsin. We're stronger than ever, and chances are, wherever you live, there's going to be some Liberace and Liza headed your way.