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Lighting the Candelabra

Liberace and Peggy Lee Together Again for the First Time

by Steve Desroches

Liberace and Peggy Lee walk into a bar. With a set-up like that, the punch ine for a joke—a very gay joke—can really go in any direction. The two supremely talented musicians with a penchant for over-the-top costumes, a lavish lifestyle, and an innate knack for entertaining an audience created public personas of high camp to deliver their masterful work to the masses, not the critics, and made them beloved characters in American popular culture. They both went from humble beginnings. Born Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota, and Władziu Valentino Liberace in West Allis, Wisconsin, these two larger than life figures are perfect subjects for satirical impersonation. So, to find out the punchline, you’ll need to follow them into the bar at the Pilgrim House for the show Lee Squared: An Evening with Liberace and Peggy Lee.

Of course, both of the legends have passed to the other side, but in Lee Squared they return to modern-day Provincetown in an evening of suspended disbelief, as not only are they both dead in real life, but they never actually performed together while alive. But if people believed Liberace was straight for all those years, you can believe he and Miss Peggy Lee are old chums together again. And in essence, this musical comedy show is just that, two longtime friends reuniting on stage, as David Maiocco and Chuck Sweeney present their hit show in Provincetown for the first time.

David Maiocco as Liberace and Chuck Sweeny as Peggy Lee in Lee Squared.

The show has been a long time coming, as both Maiocco and Sweeney have been performing for years on their own, the former as a pianist and musical director, and the latter as a celebrity female impersonator, with Maiocco often providing the music for Sweeney’s shows doing the drag standards of Judy, Liza, and Barbra. But his standout character has always been jazz legend Peggy Lee. And Maiocco, much like Liberace, was a piano prodigy who taught himself to play at age 3. Just like Mr. Showmanship, Maiocco dismissed a life in the classical music world for musical theater.

The road to this show began when each of them saw the legends they now portray in concert, which proved to be memorable evenings for both. “I saw her live at the Ball Room in New York City in the winter of 1987,” says Sweeney. “She was celebrating 50 years in show business. When I looked at her—her percussionist walked her out on stage —I thought this is not Peggy Lee. I thought we were being punked. I thought it was Jim Bailey putting us on. She had these big sunglasses, white wig. But when she sang. It was Peggy Lee for sure.”

“My Aunt Nadine took me to see Liberace at the Oakdale Music Theatre in Connecticut when I was 8,” says Maiocco. “She always used to say to me, ‘You’re going to be a regular Liberace one day.’ Little did she know then. She took me and I was terrified. I hated it. I found his costumes scary.”

Now, Maiocco’s closet is full of exact replicas of some of Liberace’s most iconic outfits. And as for Sweeney, his marabou and sequin gowns were saved from the incinerator as his pal talked him out of retirement, saying he would only do Liberace, Lee to his friends, if Miss Lee was in tow. The result is a glittery night of sublime comedy, fantastic music, and a show that nabbed Bistro and MAC awards last year after its New York City run.
While this marks the show’s Provincetown debut, the friends are no strangers to Provincetown. Sweeney came to town the summer of 1983 as a college student, working at the Boatslip and Pepe’s, but hitting the piano bar at the Pilgrim House to sing each night. For fun, he’d throw in a few impersonations, which caught the attention of Frank Massey, then a headliner with his drag character Gert. He took a supporting role in the show, and then, after Massey said, ‘I don’t want to force anyone into a life in drag, but you could have a really good thing going,” he went on to several summers at the Pilgrim House with a solo show.

“That’s how it happened,” says Sweeney. “It all began with Frank Massey. One day, before I knew it, there I was on stage with my own show each summer. Crazy.”
Maiocco was a student at the Boston Conservatory when he came to town for the summer of 1988. He was only 18 and couldn’t get into any bars, unless he was working in one. He, too, worked at the Boatslip, but landed a spot in a musical revue called In Gay Company at the Crown and Anchor, going on before the outrageous, foul-mouthed musical comedian Big Ed and the already legendary Jimmy James. The show’s time slot was 5 p.m.

“We made no money,” says Maiocco. “It might as well have been 1 p.m. We’d get maybe 5 or 6 people. Most everybody was just getting back from the beach. Nobody came. Nobody!”

Much has changed over the years for both of them, each achieving success in their own fields. But the huge reception Lee Squared has received surprises them. True, some of the success is a renewed interest in Liberace since the scandalous 2013 movie Behind the Candelabra. And there is, of course, their very real musical talents and razor sharp comedic timing. But there is also the loveably bizarre pairing of these two icons that gives Lee Squared an intriguing edge. Of course, there is all the flash, pop, and sizzle that the two bring to the characters, as they note the show wouldn’t be possible without recent financial backing to bring Peggy Lee and Liberace back to life.

“The costumes have to be handmade,” says Maiocco. “You can’t do Liberace off the rack.”
Lee Squared: An Evening with Liberace and Peggy Lee is at the Pilgrim House, 336 Commercial St., Thursday, August 2 through Saturday, August 4 at 7 p.m. Tickets ($30 general/$40 VIP) are available at the box office and online at For more information call 508.487.6424.

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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