Liza Minnelli Stepping Out! 2015

Liza Minnelli Stepping Out! 2015

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Ms. Minnelli talks about her gay fans, her famous mother and her return to broadway.
By David Hurst

Ms. Minnelli talks about her gay fans, her famous mother and her return to broadway.
In the pantheon of single-name female icons like Madonna, Barbra and Cher, Liza has always been one of the greats. At 62, Liza Minnelli—the daughter of another gay icon, Judy Garland, and queer film director Vincent Minnelli—has slimmed down and is ready to return to Broadway for the first time in almost a decade.
She adores her gay fans and can’t wait for them to pack the house for Liza’s…at the Palace, slated to run December 3–28 at the Palace Theater. Fittingly, the venue is the site of her mother’s triumphant show Judy Garland at the Palace “Two-a-Day” in 1951. Liza herself loves the serendipity of tradition and history.
“It’s so weird it’s available,” Minnelli says laughing. “I remember seeing my mom [at the Palace], and seeing Marlene Dietrich there. Gosh, so many people played there and I remember them.”
We caught up with Minnelli on the phone from Italy where she and “her boys” (think Roxie’s coterie in Chicago)—Cortes Alexander, Jim Caruso, Tiger Martina and Johnny Rodgers along with the inimitable Billy Stritch as pianist and musical director—played a busy cross-country tour in early and mid-November. “The boys are so wonderful and so great to work with,” she effuses. “We’ve worked so hard on this and I’m so glad that we’re going to bring it in. You know in the show they’re playing The Williams Brothers, right?”
The siblings Minnelli is referring to are Andy Williams and his brothers, who were the backup for Kay Thompson in her legendary nightclub act from 1947–’51. Thompson, one of the great vocal arrangers and coaches at MGM during its golden age, was also a dazzling performer and just happened to have been Liza’s godmother. In addition to Minnelli’s many signature songs, the cornerstone of Liza…at the Palace will be her recreation of Thompson’s act that will occupy the second act of the show.
“I only saw Kay perform once,” Liza remembers humorously. “It was her opening night at Ciro’s in 1948 and I was two!” she says breaking into her joyous trademark laugh, then remembering that she saw her godmother in Funny Face, the 1957 Paramount classic starring Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn in which Thompson tells us all to “Think Pink!” in one of the gayest production numbers in cinema history. Due to her tender age at the time, Minnelli obviously doesn’t remember Thompson’s stage show.
“I never got to see her do this show and there’s no record of the choreography. All of our choreography is new by Ron Lewis who’s our director and choreographer and he’s done such a brilliant job because he knew Kay, too,” she says.Liza is determinedly down to earth when chatting about her status as a gay icon.
“At first I didn’t understand what it meant,” she says introspectively. “I didn’t know what anyone’s being gay had to do with how much they liked me…Over the years, I’ve grown to understand and appreciate what it means.”
Like so many things, the answer came from her parents. “When I was young, I was caught up in a situation that wasn’t like anyone else,” she says wistfully. “I had parents who kind of set me apart. But I only realized this when I started to travel and we would be places where people would be impressed by my parentage. Therefore, you end up having a lot of people around you because of that, but it comes down to who really likes you and who sticks by you. I was scrutinized in a different way and I think that’s what happens to gay men. It continues to happen and that’s been the struggle. And, boy, that’s a struggle I really understand.”
Long a supporter of many AIDS charities, Minnelli has lost an entire generation of friends to the disease. She recorded “The Day After That” from longtime friends John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1993 to help raise money, but she continues to be frustrated by the lack of awareness or concern among younger gay men.
“At this point, I just don’t know what to say anymore,” she says, clearly distressed. “I look at the situation and think, ‘Oh god, I hope they don’t find out the wrong way how serious this still is. I hope they don’t find out how dangerous this really is.’ Because it’s devastating; to lose all those friends was just horrifying and it doesn’t have to be that way.”
There will be plenty of old friends and probably some new converts when Liza’s name finally takes its rightful place again at the top of the marquee on the Great White Way. N
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