by Steve Desroches
On a beautiful spring night with hints of summer in the air a crowd shuffles slowly into the Provincetown Theater, with about every third person stopping to look up at the bright moon in the twilight sky. It’s June, 2018 and someone is counting back the years to 1972, the year he and an old lover, a lover whose last name he can’t recall, went to the filming of Liza with a Z at the Lyceum Theater in New York. It was that year that really catapulted Liza Minnelli to superstardom, and by that time, in 1973, she’d have an Oscar and Emmy to place next to the Tony on her mantel. Liza would forever be a legend from that moment on. And with her mother being Judy Garland, THE gay icon she, too, would become one herself, which means she will forever be a subject of drag performance. So while that man in line can’t remember the last name of his ex-boyfriend, he certainly remembers the performance, and he was at the Provincetown Theater to see Liza Lott, whom he had heard was the best of the best when it comes to impersonating Minnelli.
Indeed there was a buzz that night at the theater. With a powerhouse voice and crackerjack wit, Liza Lott was already a standout star as part of the Gold Dust Orphans, the lionized theater company that divides their time between Boston and Provincetown. When Matty Laurenza arrived in Provincetown from his native Lynn, Massachusetts, he had no idea he’d be donning a sequin pants suit to hit the stage as one of his childhood idols, never mind doing so before a sold-out crowd. Jokes begin to crack around the audience that perhaps “Liza” will be a no show, as she’s now known to cancel performances at the last minute.
People chuckle, but then start to wonder as the lights dim, the spotlight goes up in time with the music, and a booming voice fills the darkened space, with “Ladies and gentlemen, Liza Minnelli!!!” Nothing. The phantom voice repeats the introduction. Still nothing. Until finally, mid-way through the third introduction, Liza Lott comes bounding out in a tizzy and the audience bursts into laughter and applause. She’s landed the first joke of the night.
“Well, she doesn’t show up,” says Laurenza. “We know that here in Provincetown. I show up. That’s why I get booked so much.”
To scale, that night at the Provincetown Theater did for Liza Lott in Provincetown what Minnelli’s performance at the Lyceum did for her. Arriving in Provincetown at the young age of 22, everyone could see that Laurenza had immense talent, something he harnessed. He focused. He learned his craft. He did the work. And now Laurenza has landed his first summer-long solo show with Minnelli: The Legend at the Crown and Anchor, featuring his character Liza Lott doing all live vocals as the show business icon. On one level, yes, it’s a celebrity impression. But Laurenza has created a fully realized character, hitting all the idiosyncrasies and ticks with perfection, so that when he takes his Liza on a fictional tangent the audience goes along, no questions asked.
When exactly Laurenza got bit by the Liza bug he isn’t sure. From the earliest age he was a “Broadway baby,” and like a bee to nectar he took to Liza the first time he ever saw her. The impressions came later, really as a party trick. Then one night while out with friends in Boston, he was at Machine, a gay nightclub and longtime home of the Gold Dust Orphans, when Ryan Landry heard him singing karaoke and offered him a role on the spot. As a self-described “gay, chubby kid from Lynn,” getting roles in theater was not easy. But since the Orphans embrace the misfits and casting is gender-blind, this is the opportunity Laurenza didn’t even know he was looking for.
“It was a great shot at doing theater,” says Laurenza. “It was theater, but it’s a great kind of theater for me because guys could play the leading ladies. I was attracted to that because you can’t do that in most theater. I never wanted to be Harold Hill in The Music Man. I wanted to be Evita. I wanted to be Rizzo in Grease.”
In 2008 Laurenza got his Orphan name – Liza Lott – and made his premiere in Whizzin’, a savage musical retelling of The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy is incontinent. But she stole the show the next year as gum-chomping Violet Beauregard in Willie Wanker and the Hershey Highway. Laurenza’s Minnelli impersonations were a backstage favorite to calm the nerves before a show, so much so that Landry began writing them into his shows. And a legend was born. That night at the theater gave him the shot of confidence he needed as he’s tweaked the show weaving in a few surprises. And you can count on him to show every performance.
“We did change a bit…wait, what’s this talk of ‘we’ about,” laughs Laurenza. “I don’t have a big production team. I mean me. Look at her; she’s gotten grand already. I did change the show a bit. I certainly do Liza standards, but added in other material. I mean, who doesn’t want to hear Liza sing Nirvana?”
Liza Lott presents Minnelli: The Legend at the Crown and Anchor, 247 Commercial St., Friday, June 14 and Saturday, June 15 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, June 16 at 8 p.m. and in July and August every Friday and Saturday at 7p.m. and every Thursday and Sunday at 10 p.m. Tickets ($25) are available at the box office and online at onlyatthecrown.com. For more information call 508.487.1430.