Friday, October 2, 2009
Not content to coast, Liza Minnelli soars in Broadway reprise
Death-defying and life-affirming, Liza Minnelli’s Wednesday night performance at the Hollywood Theatre at the MGM Grand exceeded all expectations.
Minnelli was here to re-create her limited-engagement Broadway show “Liza’s at the Palace!,” which recently won a Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event. She began her run at the MGM Grand last Friday; the Wednesday and Thursday shows were being filmed for a public television special and a DVD, and it’s a good thing, because this show — like its star — is one for the ages.
Throughout her career as a performer, Minnelli has famously thrown caution to the wind, and on Wednesday night she went full out in every song — if her voice breaks, what the hell? It sometimes seemed she might not survive to sing the next song, much less the two and a half hours she ended up delivering.
But the strangest and most wonderful thing happened: The 63-year-old Minnelli seemed to get stronger — and younger — with each song, as if she was receiving an energetic transfusion from the spotlight and the audience.
By the show’s end, Minnelli — in a Halston sparkling black shirtwaist mini, black sheer stockings and knee-high black suede boots — was incandescent, kicking and belting at full vitality.
I don’t know how she did it — I was exhausted after the show.
Minnelli opened with a suite of disenchanted love songs, and created characters for each, including the 1951 I-shot-my-man novelty number “If You Hadn’t, But You Did” (which was a feat of memorization, just for starters) and Charles Aznavour’s “What Makes a Man a Man?” the quietly defiant soliloquy of a gender illusionist.
Perhaps unequaled in her ability to hold the stage alone, Minnelli has an emotional gravity (imbued by her classic showbiz lifeline) that — I’m gonna say it — Bette Midler and Cher combined can’t equal.
The first set was studded with signature songs, including a triumphant “Maybe This Time,” and in “Cabaret,” Minnelli acknowledged her much-discussed history of hard partying and recovery with a wry pause after the line “That’s what comes of too much pills and liquor.” Minnelli assured the crowd that when she goes, she “ain’t goin’ like Elsie.”
Act II was a bouquet to Minnelli’s godmother, author/composer/actress/singer and bon vivant Kay Thompson, and Minnelli evoked not only Thompson’s eclat but addressed more directly than in other shows the memory and legacy of her late, legendary mother, Judy Garland.
Minnelli’s longtime choreographer and director Ron Lewis summoned a late 1940s performance featuring Thompson and the singing, dancing Williams Brothers (including Andy), whom Walter Winchell once called “the best nightclub act in history.”
The bandstand set became the glamorous Ciro’s nightclub in Hollywood, and Minnelli stepped in as Thompson, buoyed by her exuberant quartet through a medley of “I Love a Violin,” “Clap Yo’ Hands,” “Jubilee Time” and “Hello Hello.”
This was a loving, period-perfect evocation of a specific moment in showbiz history, presented without camp or irony, and the harmonies and snappy choreography were as razor-sharp as the parts in the chorus boys’ hair.
At moments — when Minnelli raised her in-turned arms or mussed up her hair — we were left with the uncanny afterimage of Mama, and Minnelli made the invocation explicit in an encore, nestling on the piano bench next to longtime accompanist Billy Stritch and singing a teary, tremulous — and sincere — “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
If you missed it, Minnelli’s studio recording of the “Palace” show is available as a double CD; the Vegas performance is scheduled for broadcast by American Public Television in December; a DVD release is projected for early next year.
By Joe Brown (contact)
Friday, Oct. 2, 2009 | 2 a.m.