Liza Minnelli Stepping Out! 2015

Liza Minnelli Stepping Out! 2015

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Liza Minnelli in Fine Form at Casino Concert

She’s back and she looks fabulous!
Liza Minnelli made it to Santa Barbara County for the first time this week and had the capacity crowd at the Chumash Casino on its feet, cheering on her entrance and several times during the show. Backed with a fabulous 10-piece orchestra, conducted by drummer Michael Berkowitz, nearly every song had a story with it.
Liza is a great storyteller, and she has some terrific anecdotes from growing up in Hollywood’s Golden Age. Starting the concert with “I Can See Clearly,” she then took one of Kurt Weil’s songs, “My Ship,” and made it her own, segueing into “That Man of Mine,” where her voice truly began to bloom, and she confidently belted out the lyrics.
“You notice anything different about me?” she asked with a broad smile, batting her eyelashes while moving her hand down the side of her body for a hint. “I lost 33 pounds! And, I did it with Jenny Craig. (Big round of applause.) Now I’m not a spokeswoman for it, but I just gotta be honest with you.”
And honest she was, all night long.
Launching in to a rap about her heroes, she introduced Jane Russell, who was in the front row, calling her “the most beautiful, stunning, fantastic woman on screen.” Russell took a gracious bow when the light hit her but she shook her finger at Liza for putting the spotlight on her. Later, she introduced Tab Hunter, also in the house.

The funniest song of the night was her “Song to Sara Lee,” in which she rhapsodized over all the many varieties of the pastry. This, after just telling us about losing weight, made it that much, um, richer.
Introducing the next song from Chicago, by Kander & Ebb, as one of her most favorite songs of the team, “Well, they invented me,” she said as an aside. Liza recounted how she stepped in for Gwen Verdon in the show’s first year. Apparently Verdon got a sequin or a feather boa stuck in her throat doing one of those "Oh, so Fosse" poses, injured her pipes and had to sit out for six weeks. Kander & Ebb were talking about this incident in front of Liza, when she interrupted to say, “I’ll step in for her.” There was silence and then a lot of hoo-ha about “a star doesn’t go in for a star, we have understudies for that.” She persisted and they finally agreed. Her name was never on the Broadway marquee but rather her name was announced before each show, S.O.P. in the theatre. The song was “I Am My Own Best Friend” (it was cut from the movie score), but Liza dropped into her Roxie character and we were all transported.
Continuing the magic, she introduced “Maybe This Time,” from Cabaret, as a song that was written for her by Kander & Ebb — and it’s all hers. “He’s Funny That Way,” an old jazz standard with a great new arrangement. More patter and Liza asked the crowd, “OK, now I could do “On a Clear Day” or “Cabaret” here — it’s your choice.” Unanimously “Cabaret” was the winner. As she sang, some of the lyrics punctuated experiences in her own life, and she didn’t miss the opportunity to work that song to the max.
Taking a break to change costumes, she gave her pianist and arranger, Billy Stritch, the limelight and his renditions of “Just One of Those Things,” and “Lulu’s Back in Town” were very reminiscent of Mel Torme’s pacing. He acknowledged Torme as his hero.
Throughout the evening Liza talked about her godmother, Kay Thompson, a noted performer, arranger and creator of “Eloise,” the little girl who was always full of mischief. Liza noted her approach to life: "I've discovered the secret of life. A lot of hard work, a lot of sense of humor, a lot of joy and a whole lot of tra la la."
She recalled seeing Thompson do her night club act at the famed Ciro’s in Hollywood. The act was unique in that instead of standing at the mic and singing, she was the first person to hang microphones from the ceiling, giving her and her ensemble freedom to move — and move they did. Minnelli said it was a swirling, whirling experience for a 2 year old sitting on her mother’s lap — that was 1948.
“I want to take you back to Ciro’s now,” she said, and she whipped off the long skirt to reveal a gorgeous pair of gams in over-the-knee black suede boots, and around her neck a long pink chiffon scarf. The outfit reminded me of her mom, Judy Garland — big top, stockings and high heels.
Liza brought on four young men who backed her up as “The Williams Brothers” (yes, the group Andy Williams started his career in). The troupe dazzled in full on production numbers with “Jubilee Jive” and then “Basin Street Blues.” Rolling along, Liza told more Thompson stories, bringing it around to her work in Funny Face and sang “Join the Jubilee” from that film. Thompson appeared as the agent, and stole every scene she was in with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. Simple but snappy choreography gave the numbers a decidedly vintage look but it never looked old. And Liza loves her “boys” and gave them credit as “the best bunch of guys I’ve ever worked with!”
Liza told the house that what we had just seen was a portion of a new show she and director David Sipple are working on — Godmother/Goddaughter — to be seen on TV in the near future. She then wound down with one her mother’s favorite tunes, “Mammy,” and dedicated it to Sipple.
The audience wouldn’t let her go, and she knew what we were all waiting for … her signature song, “New York, New York,” and the audience went absolutely wild when she sang it. She wanted to go, but she couldn’t leave — the audience was in the palm of her hands. So, she ended the evening simply with an a cappela rendition of “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Nearly two hours of Liza, and crowd was finally sated. Start spreading the news ... Liza’s back!

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