Thursday, February 11, 2010
SOUND OFF: Legendary LIZA, LIZA'S AT THE PALACE, At The MGM Grand, In Las Vegas, On DVD
Thursday, February 11, 2010; Posted: 09:02 AM - by Pat Cerasaro
While the title of the show may be misleading, one thing is for sure: Miss Minnelli is always at home on the stage, whether that particularly stage is in NY, Las Vegas or elsewhere, and given the performers of today, that is a big, beneficial boon to her lucky audience in and of itself. The sterling show she performs under the expert direction of Ron Field is even more good gravy on this rich, delectable delight of a meal. And, good gravy, is this show good, I'd even go so far as to call it great!
Ostensibly a tribute to her godmother and lifelong friend, legendary arranger and sometimes performer Kay Thompson, Minnelli is at her very best in this concert, which was filmed over the course of two sold-out shows at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. While the Thompson material is a welcome addition to her repertoire, it is the requisite standards we have come to expect that shine brightest of all. To crib a phrase from THE ACT, and the original title of that troubled show for which she won a Tony Award, Minnelli shines it on better than anyone. It seemed impossible that she could top her legacy, and her progeny, but she sure makes a strong case here that she, indeed, has, and is better than ever. Of course, shine and sparkle is what Minnelli does best, spangled and sterling where once she sounded strangled and mangled in performing many of these songs in recent years. She's been through a lot and gives it all right back to the audience, every shrewdly scripted moment ringing true and seemingly every single syllable infused with all she has to give them. And us. After all, Minnelli is all about her audience and the audience here eats it up - and rightfully so. She is at her best since Fosse's LIZA WITH A Z here and how lucky we are to have such a perfect preservation of a nearly perfect performance to enjoy whenever we want.
"Teach Me Tonight" is sexy and alluring. "I Would Never Leave You" is a dramatic delight. "If You Hadn't, But You Did" is uproarious and hilarious. "What Makes A Man A Man" is the most delectable ballad of the concert and Minnelli's affection for Charles Aznavour is never more tactile than it is in this spine-tingling performance of a powerhouse song. It is the perfect marriage of performer and material, and given the many men Liza has acted as muse for - from Halston to Fosse to Kander & Ebb and beyond - that is a high compliment. Minnelli treats us to a short monologue to set-up a song from CHICAGO, slightly odd as it is cribbed from the screenplay and not the actual show (which she starred in while Gwen Verdon took ill back in the 70s), leading up to a knock-out "My Own Best Friend" with some particularly effective lighting tricks. "He's Funny That Way" is a wonderful entry, as is the entire Palace Medley, which includes "Shine On Harvest Moon", "Some of These Days", "My Man" and "I Don't Care". The first act ends with a searing "Cabaret" with the new de rigueur lyrical change to the final lines ("I'm NOT going like Elsie"). Given the fact that her best friend, and director and specialty-material lyricist, Fred Ebb, approved this change removes any of questionable aspects show purists may find with this change. And just when you thought nothing could be better than what Minnelli achieves in the first act, virtually un-fatigued she barrels through the second act with delete table, tangible delight - and out-of-this-world results. "Wonder" may be the best word one could ascribe to this living legend, and her signature song, "And The World Goes 'Round" has never been better than it is here.
The excellent back-up of Johnny Rodgers, Jim Caruso and company provided during the second-act acts as the defining characteristic of this masterful, endlessly entertaining event. Minnelli is a generous performer and lets each of her "boys" shine, though it would be impossible to outshine this blazing beacon whether in black, red or white (all vintage Halston, natch). "Hello, Hello", "Jubilee Time", "Basin Street Blues", "Clap Yo' Hands" and "Liza" are all affecting and entertaining, nary a false note or misstep in the bunch. "Look For the Silver Lining" is a little maudlin, perhaps, and "Mammy" may be a bit unnecessary, as she has performed it better elsewhere, but more of a very good thing is merely that. The requisite "New York, New York" is proof that even now, more than forty years after her debut, Minnelli is at the top of her field. The concert ends on a sentimental note with a sensitive, moving rendition of her mother, Judy Garland's, famous standard, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas". And be it winter, summer, fall or spring, this capper is sure to get you in a generous spirit - and a great mood. The whole performance is so life-affirming and enthusiastic, it threatens to lift the spirits of the most depressed and depressive among us. Minnelli more than lives up to her legendary lineage, whether Thompson or Garland, and does what they could never do: remain completely contemporary and old-school, simultaneously. How she does it, I do not know, but I could very well assume it has to do most with one element: magic.
Equally shattering, strong, seething, sentimental and superlative, this is one of the best concerts I have ever had the pleasure to experience, live or on video. Enough cannot be said about what a wonderful and wondrous presentation this is, from the sizzling orchestra under the direction of Billy Stritch, to the sublime camerawork to the performers themselves to the leading lady proving herself a star of stars, shining brighter than any in the known galaxy. If nearly forty years ago she was Liza with a Z, she is now, at over sixty, Liza with an A, and an A+ at that. Brava!