Liza Minnelli Stepping Out! 2015

Liza Minnelli Stepping Out! 2015

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Liza's new Minnellium: Why the star feels so lucky...

Liza Minnelli fixes me with those enormous dark brown eyes.
"Do I look forward with hope?" she asks.
"I tell you, I can't wait to get up every day, to see whether the trees are green, what colour the grass is, what's on the news.
"I can't wait to feel the energy around me. Life is so precious."
Quick breath. "Right now," she adds, as if you'd need any confirmation, "I'm firing on all cylinders."

'Twas not ever thus.
In September 2006, I spent a somewhat highly charged couple of hours with Liza in her almost entirely empty Manhattan apartment.
Her fourth husband, the much reviled David Gest, had been shown the door and his memory had been expunged, it seemed, from his estranged wife's living quarters (they divorced the following year).
The vast echoing sitting room was devoid of any furniture save for a couple of chairs and two small card tables, pushed together and covered with a red gingham cloth.
Clearly, Liza was intent on starting over. Nor was any reference to be made of him, an edict that exists today, albeit with a rather different emphasis.
On that occasion, when asked about he-who-must-not-be-mentioned, she'd all but hissed, through clenched teeth: "How can you talk of somebody who does not exist?", thereby demonstrating that the man was still well and truly under her skin.
In the suite of her Knightsbridge hotel on a spring afternoon some 18 months later, it is clear that Gest has become an irrelevance, someone impatiently waved aside with the flick of a wrist.
Today, Miss Minnelli has far bigger fish to fry.
Her main motivation at the moment is professional. For a year now, she's been performing a new show in which she sings, in the first half, a selection of those songs most readily identified with her and, in the second, a tribute to her visionary godmother, the actress and singer Kay Thompson.
Thompson appeared alongside Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn in the film Funny Face, and went on to become a sort of super-vocal coach to MGM's roster of stars before putting together her own cabaret act.
It is this act that Liza re-creates in her show, with which she's been touring the world, and it would appear to have struck a chord.
In Madrid not so long ago, she received 17 separate standing ovations.
UK audiences will be able to judge it for themselves when Liza opens at the London Coliseum on 25 May, in her first UK tour here for almost 20 years.
This being Liza, of course, there have been dramas along the way. In Sweden, she managed to reach the end of her five-song contribution to a Christmas show before all but collapsing in the wings and having to be supported back to her dressing room by her tour manager.
The U.S. gossip rags had a field day. Was this a recurrence of her well-documented battles with drink or drugs?
"No, it was not," she says, and the accompanying laugh is sardonic shot through with sang-froid.
"I had toothache. I was on painkillers but I was still delirious."
Not any old toothache, though. Liza had impacted wisdoms, which sent her temperature soaring to 104 degrees. She was determined that the show must go on, but Dr Theatre, as Noel Coward was fond of calling it, was stretched to the limit on that occasion.

She reaches for a cigarette.
"My only remaining vice," she grins, and it's almost certainly true.
Dressed, as is her wont, in black from head to toe - polo-neck jumper, velvet trousers, ankle boots - Liza is looking remarkably trim for a woman who 62nd birthday.
Since we last met, she's lost yet more weight, a fact she doesn't find surprising.
"I've never danced so much in my life," she says.
"Both in the show and at class for 90 minutes every day in New York when I'm back home.
"Listen, I have two false hips, a wired-up right knee (the result of a bad fall), two crushed discs and scoliosis.
"If I don't dance, I seize up."
What can it be like, though, for those dancers being put through their paces with a member of showbiz royalty in their midst?
She's having none of this.
"They might notice me for about 15 seconds," she says, "then they get on with what they're doing.
"This 'living legend' thing always makes me feel like I'm hearing about somebody else.
"To me, I'm just a showbiz gypsy, somebody who travels from job to job."
So there are no inhibitions about moving freely around her adopted home town of New York?
"Now, what do you think?"
Well, I think she probably goes wherever she wants whenever she wants.
"And you'd be dead right. Sure, every second person shouts out, 'Hi, Liza,' and I shout 'Hi' right back."
But it's not, you gather, a problem.
OK, then. Let's have a typical day in the life of Liza Minnelli when she's not filling theatres around the world.
"I get up at 7.30. I walk my dogs." She has two schnauzers: Emelina and her son, Oscar, so named because "my parents and I are the only mother, father and daughter to be nominated for an Academy Award". (Vincente Minnelli won his for directing Gigi; Liza got her Best Actress gong for Cabaret; and Judy Garland was nominated twice: as Best Supporting Actress in Judgment at Nuremberg and Best Actress for A Star is Born.)
After that dance class, there'll be lunch with a fellow classmate. It might be actress Marisa Berenson (her friend since they both appeared in Cabaret); it might be someone unconnected with the business.
Then she'll attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting before returning home to deal with calls to do with her work ("I just love has just celebrated the phone"), and later she'll maybe take in a movie or a play or something good on TV ("I'm a big fan of Arrested Development").
She gives a shrug. "It's all very normal. Sorry."
She discovered alcohol for the first time when she was 30, her teenage years having been put on hold, she says, because of the need to play mum to her own emotionally volatile mother. "Then, one day, I had a drink and I liked what it did to me."
Eight years later, Liza had to acknowledge she had a problem and checked into the Betty Ford Clinic.
"Addiction is an illness. They've found the gene. And it's on both sides of my family.
"Bad things happen and then you fall off the wagon. The disease tells your brain you can have one drink. No harm in that. But there is harm because you don't know when to stop."
In time, she enrolled with AA. So when did she last have a drink?
"Oh, that's my business," she says.
"It's anonymous for a reason! But I will tell you this. It's been a long, long time.
"I'm a recovering alcoholic, though. I will never say I've recovered." That way, she'd take her eye off the ball. Thank heavens, then, for her work ethic.

"Well, I was trained on Broadway," she says, by way of explanation.
But it's a myth to imagine that this is someone who's only really at home centre stage.
"I'll tell you when I'm happiest. It's when I'm working it out to reach the point where I'm ready to give my best.
"The process, the journey, is almost a bigger buzz than the performance.
"I'm so lucky that I love doing what I do for a living.
"It's why I feel a responsibility to pass on the goodwill I feel about life."
She also teaches at the Actors Studio and works with brain-injured children - reading to them and helping them with simple exercises.
"I've never been an 'I'm nothing without showbiz' kind of person."
Given the gene pool, though, it must now feel inevitable that she ended up a star. Not a bit of it. The newly empowered 'Liza with a Z' sits up straight and gives it both barrels.
"Inevitable?" she says, eyes widening.
"I don't think it's inevitable. Think of Frank Sinatra Jr…" and her voice trails away.
"What I have I've worked very hard for - especially if you consider the reputation I had to live up to.
"If it were inevitable, every star's kid would be a star. And most of them aren't. Michael Douglas and I are the exceptions."
She reaches for another Marlboro Light.
"Not that I've ever let any of that history bother me," she says.
"I've always just done what I do.
"Truly, I did not feel the weight of expectation on my back because of my mother. My parents happened to be in the movies and so were all their friends.
"If I'd lived in a coal-mining town, all the men would have been miners. My life was much more regulated than everybody thinks."
As it is today. Liza never goes out on the road for more than three weeks at a time: "I'm lucky in that I'm not a record act so I don't have to tour constantly.
"I don't want to feel like a workhorse. And I like my home."
She's now refurnishing it with the help of interior designer Timothy Macdonald.
It is surely no accident, moreover, that she includes an old Sophie Tucker song, 'I'm Living Alone and I Like It', in her stage act.
Liza has been married four times, each one ending in divorce.
Her first two husbands, singer Peter Allen and producer Jack Haley Jr, are both now dead.
Her third, sculptor Mark Gero, remains a friend.
And we don't talk about you-know-who.
"Oh, when I think of all that crap…"
So, no need to ask if she'd consider a trip up the aisle again.
But she's not immune to the idea of love affairs, she says. Where would she find the time?
"Well, I may be busy," she says, "but that doesn't mean I can't be busy at something else."
Is there someone new, then?
"No." Pause. Two. Three. "Although I probably wouldn't tell you if there were." She cackles with laughter.
These days, you're unlikely to see Liza's name in the scandal sheets.
"My life is an open book," she says.
"I'm aware of the cult of celebrity, just like everybody else. It's just that it doesn't impinge on my life.
"I'm lucky. I was born into celebrity," points out the woman who was famous before she was born.
"I've always understood it. I saw what it can do."
• For details of Liza Minnelli's tour, visit, tel: 0871 220 0260.

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