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Television Reviews : The First ‘Liberace’ Strikes a New High in Low Notes

“Is this some kind of joke?” the beloved, bejeweled--and ultimately beleaguered--entertainer asks the seductive female who greets him in his bedroom with a passionate kiss.

You’ll be wondering the same throughout “Liberace,” a flat-note, awesomely absurd story depicting one of the most celebrated--and gaudiest--performers of our time. “Liberace” airs at 9 p.m. Sunday on ABC (Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42) and, if nothing else, provides a good laugh.

As things turn out, the unwelcome tryst has been arranged as a surprise by Liberace’s mom and sister-in-law because, with his heavy schedule, Lee just doesn’t have the time to date girls. Hmmmmmmm.

Actually, America gets two Liberaces a week apart, with “Liberace: Behind the Music” following Oct. 9 on CBS--last, but virtually impossible to be least.

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Co-produced by Joel Strote, the executor of Liberace’s estate, ABC’s overprotective account is flat and pastel despite its outward glitz. Directed by Billy Hale and starring Andrew Robinson as Liberace, it offers no insights into the character of this outrageous performer who died a year and a half ago, succumbing to the AIDS that he steadfastly denied having.

Even worse, it conceals and muffles its subject behind a veil of ambiguity, depicting him as a sort of asexual, hopelessly naive clod who is so out of touch that he’s flabbergasted when a scandal magazine repeats “vicious innuendo” about him being homosexual.

Robinson has the voice and walk down, but looks more like Dobie Gillis than Liberace beneath a stiff hunk of fake hair, his vacant expression revealing his own bafflement over the character he’s playing in this confusing, weird and often comic portrait of androgyny.

We meet the “strays” that the generous Liberace takes in, starting with Jamie James, who will become his long-time publicist. Then enters Scott Thorson, who later will sue him for palimony. Next is Darren, who disappears after playing a few chords on Liberace’s piano. Although the implications are obvious, there is no chemistry, passion or even touching between Liberace and any of these men. Very strange.

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Even more so--but a real howl--is Liberace’s supposedly hot romance with a young woman who reacts adoringly as he croons a song in his effeminate lisp of a voice. Is this movie some kind of a joke?

One “Chopsticks” down, one to go.


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