Liza Minnelli Stepping Out! 2015

Liza Minnelli Stepping Out! 2015

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Liza Minnelli thrills fans at Hollywood Bowl

The singer makes up for her limitations with show-biz savvy.
The Orange County Register
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What becomes a legend most?
An adoring audience.
If you've got them on your side, nothing else matters.
Liza Minnelli had us worshipping at her altar Friday night at the Hollywood Bowl. Her two-hour concert was an amazing display of showbiz savvy transforming weaknesses into strengths and flaws into poignant moments.
Minnelli is 63 now, and her wayward life is legend. Fellow diva Barbra Streisand has treated her voice like a pampered poodle and managed her career like a sergeant major. Minnelli marches to her own eccentric drumbeat, sometimes eerily reminiscent of her mother's sad tattoo. Over the years the gossip press has followed Liza's travails like hounds after a hare, feasting on her drug abuse problems, uneven performances, wavering voice and trail of broken romances.
Recently, though, Minnelli has blazed a comeback trail. She won a Tony earlier this year for "Liza's at the Palace," the crowning achievement of a 75-city tour. Her appearance at the Hollywood Bowl is a prelude to an engagement next month at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
How did she do it? By embracing and even celebrating her shortcomings, not trying to gloss over them.
Minnelli's instrument is well past its prime. It was never a perfect voice, but at the height of her powers (most famously, her iconic performance as Sally Bowles in Bob Fosse's 1972 film version of "Cabaret") there was a thrilling lustiness and bravura to her delivery – think of the way she slayed "Mein Herr."
More than three tumultuous decades older, Minnelli's voice sounds fragile and its shortcomings are more apparent. The chief culprit is breath support. She struggles to finish long phrases and seems winded after upbeat songs. That epic vibrato has widened to Grand Canyon proportions.
But it doesn't matter. Minnelli can still sell a song like nobody else alive. Performing Broadway tunes is as much about acting and persona power as vocal technique, and in those departments Minnelli is better than ever.
Backed by a 12-piece orchestra playing lush arrangements, Minnelli didn't give us a string of chestnuts. "Cabaret" was lightly represented by its title song and "Maybe This Time." Kander and Ebb's earlier hit, "Flora the Red Menace" – the musical that gave 19-year-old Minnelli her breakout role and first Tony – was ignored on Friday. (We were hoping, at least, for the beautiful "A Quiet Thing"; its lyrics would have been a great opener.)
Nevertheless, the material was well chosen. For longtime Minnelli fans the lyrics in songs such as "I Would Never Leave You," "Cabaret," "My Own Best Friend" and "Maybe This Time" were pregnant with allusions to her life.
Friday evening was hot and nearby fires made the air treacherous for anyone singing or even breathing. Minnelli carefully marshaled her energy, bringing out a chair midway through the first act. She joked that in the old days it remained on the sidelines until after intermission.
That was the first of many occasions when Minnelli made a crack about her age and checkered past. Only a celebrity with this public a life and this rabid a following could possibly get away with it.
"We're all in this together," she said at the top of the evening, referring to the heat and the challenges it presented. Enlisting the audience's sympathy is an old showbiz trick that Minnelli has learned as well as anyone, and it worked like Merlin magic. The crowd's affection bubbled over. "We love you, Liza," someone screamed more than once.
Another sign of Minnelli's confidence: she dared to evoke thoughts of another diva during her Palace Medley, a grab-bag of song snippets sculpted around the thrill of playing at New York's famous venue. She briefly touched on "My Man" from "Funny Girl" – a property wholly owned and operated by Barbracorp. The audience loved it.
Every diva knows how to finish an act, and Minnelli is an old pro.
The first half ended with a speedy version of "Cabaret." Minnelli delivered it with a touch of world-weariness, characterized by less-than-pinpoint accuracy in the phrasing and intonation. The song contained one of those art-imitating-life lines: "Well, that's what comes from too much pills and liquor." She milked the moment perfectly without saying a word; a knowing look was all it took.
Minnelli also offered a bit of touching revisionism at the song's end, which brought a supportive cheer from the huge house: "When I go, I'm NOT going like Elsie!"
The evening ended with another Kander and Ebb standard, "New York, New York." Minnelli gave it the old razzle dazzle. She even found an opportune moment or two for a display of jazz hands (Minnelli must be the only performer alive who can use that gesture without irony). Predictably, it brought a standing O.
Fragile as she seemed, Minnelli had the energy for a quiet encore with her beloved accompanist, Billy Stritch: Cole Porter's "Every Time We Say Goodbye." It was a melancholy valentine to the audience. Perched like a bird on the edge of Stritch's piano stool, wearing a black T shirt, Minnelli looked eerily like her mother. (The illusion is reinforced by her persona: the tumbled-out words and vulnerability are spookily Judy-like.)
Judy Garland, of course, was dead by 47. Liza is still very much with us – and the way her career is humming along now, I'd say all the odds are in her favor.
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1 comment:

Lara said...

That frightful person standing with her mother in front of the Liza sign is me!!! I'm usually not that horrendous looking, I swear.

I flew down from San Francisco to see Liza's Friday night show--it was my mom's birthday present to me :). It was absolutely phenomenal!