Friday, October 2, 2009
Liza from A to Z in ten minutes
"YOU have 10 minutes," says the operator. "I'll give you a warning reminder a minute from the end." Ten minutes? Ten minutes with Liza (with a zee) Minnelli?
Ten months wouldn't be enough time to be informed about the now 63-year-old New York entertainer's life and career, renowned for the comebacks she has made from personal crises.
Minnelli won an Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA for her 1972 role as Sally Bowles in Bob Fosse's film version of Cabaret.
She's gathered four Tonys, spanning her Broadway debut in Flora, the Red Menace in 1965 to June this year for her 2008 series of Broadway concerts Liza's At the Palace, and there's an Emmy for Liza with a Z in 1972, and a Grammy Legend award presented in 1989.
Then there's been years of medical dramas – real life ones, not pretend in film or TV.
Life-threatening encephalitis in 2000, vocal cord surgery, five miscarriages, two hip replacements, battles with drugs and alcohol.
Then there are the four marriages, her first at 21 to Australian entertainer Peter Allen, and her most recent, her 2002 wedding with concert producer David Gest with Michael Jackson as best man and Elizabeth Taylor as maid of honour. Sixteen months, and that relationship was over.
Ten minutes with the daughter of two Hollywood legends, Judy Garland and director Vincente Minnelli, still the only mother, father and daughter to have been awarded Oscars, with Garland given a special Academy Award in 1940 "for her outstanding performance as a screen juvenile" that year.
Ten minutes, and Liza, on the phone in her New York riverside apartment she shares with her three schnauzer dogs, is watching the sun set over New York and asking advice about what the weather will be like when she performs at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre on October 30 during her first Australian tour for more than 20 years.
Told we're moving towards summer, and that cotton might be the most suitable fabric, she shrieks, "Oh, I thought I was packed, darling, but I might have to rethink my wardrobe", laughing now.
Last week, she was performing at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and between now and her departure for her two-week Australian tour, she reveals she has a role in the new Sex and the City movie now filming in New York, scheduled for release next June.
"I'm not sure if I should be telling you about that but it will be on the wires. Yes, you can write about that. By the time it appears, it will have been announced," she said. "I'm so excited about this, you know."
Her speaking voice is strong and vibrant, and her enthusiasm about her impending tour is unmistakable.
"I have so many friends in Australia. I can't wait to see them all," she says in her distinctive delivery.
Yes, it's basically the show for which she won the Tony award, but there's a whole new second act for Australia, worked out with some help from the late Peter Allen's sister, Lynne Smith, who remains "a dear friend".
"On Broadway the second act featured a lot of material about Kay Thompson (Minnelli's late godmother, who was a renowned vocal arranger and vocal coach, probably best known in Australia for her role in Funny Face with Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn)," she said. "That's been cut and I've worked up a new second act, and it's gone pretty well when I've tried it out here.
"I called a bunch of people about what they thought you'd want to hear. Last time I was there I was with Frank (Sinatra) and Sammy (Davis Jr) for the Ultimate Event tour. I haven't played at the Entertainment Centre. Last time I was at Festival Hall. The Entertainment Centre has a very big stage? That's OK, darling."
Ten minutes, and she says there'll be a 12-piece band, "my boys", coming down to tour with her.
She credits the French ballad singer Charles Aznavour with influencing her vocal style. "It was Peter who wanted to go see him, and he said, 'I think you'll like him'.
"I said, 'Does he sing in English?' Of course, he didn't, but we went to a theatre in New York City and this little man walked on the stage. I thought I'd just sit through it, but I don't think I breathed for two hours.
"I couldn't believe the way he performed each song. It was like a little movie. This is what I learned, and my father helped me a great deal too, and Momma.
"I had wonderful people to turn to. I always wanted to learn and I stayed curious. You don't get bored and depressed if you are trying to learn something.
"You know, I just realised when I was doing these calls tonight that all those brilliant women like Barbra, Cher, Bette – they all started with hit records. I never had a hit record. People associate me with Cabaret but Louis Armstrong had a big hit with that. Frank sang New York, New York with my blessing. He called me up and told me he was coming to New York and asked if he could sing my song. I said, 'Please . . . it was completely ignored in the movie (New York, New York). I sang it like someone in Toledo trying to get to New York.
"Every time Frank sang it he would say thank you to Liza Minnelli for letting him sing it. No, he didn't steal that song, he just made it so good.
"You'll come backstage and say hello. Don't forget now," she says as the 10 minute conversation ends.
Her hips might be artificial, and some of the high notes might be elusive, but the show goes on for Liza with a zee.
As she sings in Cabaret "What good is sitting alone in your room?"
Her Australian tour ends in Sydney on November 2, and there are bookings for concerts in American cities through 2010 when she turns 64.
Details of Liza Minnelli's Brisbane concert: www.ticketek.com.au
October 03, 2009 12:00am