In the 1960s and 1970s, The Garden State Arts Center had entertainers who performed three, four, five or seven nights a week, staying in local hotels during their stays. In the case of top entertainers, the lead act in any show, there was always a press conference and a luncheon the afternoon of the first evening’s show. Two of the most entertaining and friendly entertainers at those luncheons were Johnny Cash and Liberace, both of whom appeared at the Arts Center several times. Liberace always made time for photos with the reporters, and always have them the newest album of whichever young talent he was featuring on his program. I covered most of Liberace’s appearances at the Art Center, and always loved the per-performance press conferences. This is my review in The Courier from his Arts Center performance in August 1979.
HOLMDEL – Liberace is fantastic. It makes no difference that he has been at the Garden State Arts Center every year for the past ten years. It makes no difference his show varies little from year to year, except in the splendor of his costumes. What matters is that Liberace loves to perform, loves to play the piano and loves to sop up the adulations of the audiences. It all makes for a most enjoyable evening.
At the Arts Center every night from now through Saturday, Liberace comes on state at the very beginning of the show, resplendent in a Norwegian blue fox cape with a 16 foot long train that coordinates with his silver and white sparkly studded tuxedo. He doffs the cape almost immediately and makes six other changes through the course of the evening, each of them more spectacular and more sparkling than the one before. His candelabra is alive and well and still ensconced on his Steinway, his jokes are the same as previous years and his repertoire of tones is basically a repeat.
But that’s the stuff the Liberace fans love. He’s found himself a tidy little niche and he’s not about to rock the boat. You know the joke about how he laughs all the way to the bank? Well, this week, he said he’s bought the bank. And he joked, he’s looking into the Arts Center because he likes that too.
For the serious music lover, Liberace is a talented enthusiastic musician. You could tell without his mentioning it that Chopin is his favorite composer; his rendition of a Polonaise is unforgettable. And he really doesn’t need the colorful and electronic-inspired Dancing Waters to enhance his renditions of the Waltz King, Straus. But it is an attractive addition. His Gershwin is flawless.
Yet even with his bent for the classical, and his obvious enjoyment of it, Liberace can swing into Eddy Duchin or modern day tunes with aplomb and talent. And that’s where his show differs; as talented and polished as he is at the piano, he really does seem to improve every year. His show is a study in musical excellence with a variety that’s unbeatable and matchless.
As always, Liberace brings new talent with him, and he’s excelled in that this year, too. Young Marco Valenti is an Italian tenor with a personality to match his talent. He’s sensational. And it doesn’t make any difference whether you like opera or not. When you hear his arias from Rigoletto and Pagliacci, you might become a devotee. Light and moving, no heavy opera, but definitely outstanding. He’s exciting, dynamic and the possessor of a gorgeous resonant voice.
The real excitement, however, comes in the form of the Chinese acrobats of Taiwan, a talented bunch of youngers and not-so-youngsters who put on a mini-circus right before your eyes, complete with a lady magician who makes a gorgeous young lady disappear under silk scarves. The young man who climbs atop six chairs perched atop four empty bottles on top of a little stand takes the prize for putting electricity into the air and exudes a personality even more charming than his graceful balancing talent. There’s a beautiful colorful dance with scarves and a glittering dragon, some highly talented unicycle rides and an awful lot of enthusiasm in the Taiwanese performances.
There’s no doubt about it; Liberace knows the audience comes to the Arts Center to see a show; he guarantees they get it.