Liza Minnelli Stepping Out! 2015

Liza Minnelli Stepping Out! 2015

Friday, August 29, 2008

Liza Minnelli's show salutes her godmother: New Liza interview from the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH Newspaper /, Friday, August 29th, 2008,

By Judith Newmark 08/31/2008
08/31/2008Liza Minnelli is the only Academy Award winner whose parents both won Oscars of their own.But she doubts that genes explain everything. "If that were true," she laughed, "wouldn't things be different for Frank Sinatra Jr.?"But in the nature-vs.-nurture debate, Minnelli does all right on the nurture side, too. Her parents, entertainment legend Judy Garland and celebrated movie director Vincente Minnelli, knew everybody — and they introduced their daughter.The great lyricist Ira Gershwin was her godfather; her godmother was writer and performer Kay Thompson, of "Eloise" fame. Composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II bestowed the slightly misspelled name "Ensign Lisa Minelli" on one of the nurses in the chorus of their 1949 smash hit, "South Pacific." "They were just the neighbors," Minnelli says now.A superstar since the 1970s, a fashion icon in sequins and a jet-black gamine coif, a long-reliable source of tabloid gossip, Minnelli was born famous. Then she lived up to the legacy. She got an early start. Minnelli made her screen debut at 3, playing her mother's daughter in a 1949 costume musical, "In the Good Old Summertime."

But it was not love at first take."When I was a kid, I thought my parents' jobs were boring," Minnelli recalled in a telephone interview. "You always had to be so quiet on the set!"I liked to hang out in the dance studio instead and watch the dancers." All that movement and energy suited her temperament and her little-girl dreams: She wanted to be an ice skater.

When she was in her teens, however, her father took her with him to New York, treating her to night after night of Broadway shows. One of them, "Bye Bye Birdie," knocked her out. "It must have already been up for a while, because I didn't even see Chita (Rivera) in it," Minnelli said. (Years later, they co-starred in another Broadway show, "The Rink.") "I just loved it and I thought, yes! This is what I want to do. I knew I belonged on Broadway."Minnelli also has a vague memory of an earlier influential show, sitting on her mother's lap at a nightclub to watch her "tall, slim, simply beautiful" godmother do her act.Today, Thompson is probably best remembered for her stories about an impish girl who lives at the Plaza Hotel — a character long rumored to be partly based on little Liza Minnelli. (Minnelli has her doubts. "When we were in New York instead of at home in California, we always stayed at the Plaza," she concedes. "But I think all kids like to play with hotel mail chutes.")During her long career, however, Thompson was a popular performer in clubs and on radio. She made some movies, too, playing a character based on famed Vogue editor Diana Vreeland in the Audrey Hepburn/Fred Astaire classic "Funny Face." Furthermore, Minnelli points out, she was a terrific music arranger and perhaps the most esteemed singing coach in Hollywood. "Talk to people in music and look at the respect you see in their faces just at the mention of Kay's name," Minnelli said. "She taught everybody at MGM to sing."Now Minnelli salutes her godmother in a solo concert that showcases her own signature songs ("Cabaret," "All That Jazz," "New York, New York") in the first half, then turns to Thompson's material in the second.The show may be Broadway-bound. ("I can't confirm that yet," Minnelli says. But she doesn't even try to keep the optimism out of her bubbling, distinctive voice.) Next month, it opens Lindenwood University's new performing arts center in St. Charles.Thompson actually grew up close by, in St. Louis. After graduating from Soldan High School, she embarked on a show-business career that eventually led to Hollywood. There, she worked on such movies as 1944's "The Ziegfeld Follies" — starring Judy Garland, directed by Vincente Minnelli. The friendship extended into another generation: Thompson, in her last years, shared Minnelli's Manhattan apartment. "I didn't want her to be alone," Minnelli said. "She was a huge influence on me."Indeed, the entertainment world that nurtured her may be the most stable force in Minnelli's stormy personal life. Her fourth marriage to David Gest, which featured all kinds of bizarre charges and counter-charges, finally stopped being tabloid fodder when they agreed last year to drop their various complaints and proceed with a no-fault divorce. Her many stints in rehab for substance abuse have of course inspired comparisons to her mother, who suffered from the same kinds of problems and died from an overdose. It could have been an all-too-typical, second-generation show-biz story — except for the work. Minnelli's always been good at it, and she's always gone back to it. It seems to mean stability to her.And young as she was, she was right about Broadway: She did belong there. Her status as triple-threat powerhouse has been acknowledged with three Tony awards. She won the first, for the musical "Flora the Red Menace," when she was just 19 years old. In the movies, she's played all kinds of characters, from the eccentric teenager of "The Sterile Cuckoo" to the down-to-earth waitress who wins a millionaire's love in "Arthur." But her biggest screen triumph was undoubtedly "Cabaret," the brilliant Kander and Ebb musical about Germany in the 1930s.With her bowler hat and garters, her scissor-legged dance style and her shattering delivery of the title song, Minnelli's performance as Sally Bowles became an icon of decadence — and brought her the 1972 Oscar for best actress.She and "Cabaret" director/choreographer Bob Fosse quickly teamed up for a dazzling song-and-dance TV special, "Liza with a Z." (She got an Emmy for that one.) More recently, she charmed a new TV audience as the dizzy Lucille 2 in the cult comedy hit "Arrested Development."Then there are the recordings, the concerts, the club appearances. Add it up and it's a heavyweight résumé — but you don't take your résumé onstage. Dashing off to another rehearsal, Minnelli said that she's never worked as hard on anything as she's worked on her current Thompson show. "It has to be just perfect," she said, "because Kay was." 314-340-8243

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