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Liberace tribute debuts The Center's touring schedule

Martin Preston performed hundreds of times as he traveled the country impersonating Liberace, but this was a performance like no other: This was a tribute to the concert pianist’s 100th birthday.

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The tribute was the first presentation of professional talent for The Center for Art & Inspiration, in downtown Hendersonville, said founder Jeanie Linders. The show continues Saturday night at 7:30 at the Center, 125 S. MainSt.

Preston performed fan favorites in front of a full house, followed by a birthday celebration where audience members sang “Happy Birthday,” ate a Liberace-themed cake and took photos with a bedazzled Preston and his piano.

The glittery costumes drew as much attention as the live music, including the iconic white fur coat Liberace loved to begin his performances with.

Liberace fan clubs from around the country were in the audience with members hailing from Atlanta to Connecticut. The Liberace Fans 2019 had three members present, including David Maiocco, another Liberace impersonator.

There are only four Liberace impersonators in the country, including Preston and Maiocco, said John Hance, a Liberace Fans club member.

Even after all of the shows Preston has performed since 1990, his first show remains the most memorable, he said.

He debuted the tribute show nearly 30 years ago in Boca Raton, Florida, where he found out after the performance that Liberace’s sister-in-law, Dora Liberace, was in the audience.

“I spent two years building this show, and it was a lot of money and practice, and I didn’t even know if it would work, and having Dora Liberace in the audience that night was like a sign,” Preston said.

Although the producer waited until after the show to tell Preston that Dora Liberace was in the audience, it wasn’t the first time Preston had met someone close to Liberace.

Preston had friends that worked for Liberace, so he was familiar with the show and even got to meet Liberace and the people closest to him by being backstage often.

After watching a tribute to Liberace six months after his death, Preston was struck by how little the act resembled Liberace. He thought somebody should impersonate Liberace in the right way, and the more he thought about it, the more inspired he became. He told his closest friends and colleagues that he was going to become Liberace and ignored their reactions when they told him he was insane and to not waste his time or money.

“If they hadn’t told me I couldn’t do it, I might never have tried,” Preston said.

“Everybody who knows Liberace knows Martin Preston,” Maiocco said. “He was the trailblazer.”

While this is the first professional show for The Center, the theater plans many more and aims to bring arts and culture to engage the community and contribute to its development. The Center hopes to provide access to fine arts for everyone to enjoy, from retirees to children.

The Center offers a variety of entertainment including dinner productions, arts classes, book signings at Malaprop’s Books and an in-house cafe that serves coffee, tea and treats. Some of the events visitors can enjoy this month include a six-week sketching for beginners’ class, a calligraphy workshop and an Appalachian music and writer showcase. Upcoming theatrical productions include My Big Fat Italian Wedding Murder and An Improper Royal Tea Murder, which include a catered meal and audience participatation. The space is open all week long and is available for organizations to use for their own events and activities. To see a listing of upcoming events at The Center, click here.