Thursday, June 10, 2010
Fabulous Liza has lots on her plate
Web Posted: 06/10/2010 12:00 CDT
"Hello, darling." Being a colossal fan of Liza (with a "Z") Minnelli, I'm thrilled to be chatting by cell phone with the Oscar, Golden Globe, Emmy and four-time Tony winner. Truly, this is more exhilarating than the time I was face to face with George Clooney or on the red carpet walking alongside Oprah Winfrey or listening to Russell Crowe tell me about his lucky underwear (green boxers).
Minnelli, 64, daughter of celebrated parents Judy Garland and Vicente Minnelli, will make a Texas stop in San Antonio this summer (July 18 at the Majestic Theatre) and two more come fall -- Dallas (Oct. 9) and Austin (Oct. 10). She'll perform her one-woman concert of love songs, share showbiz stories and hoof it alongside sexy chorus boys.
Start spreading the news: Liza is hot. In a black sequined tunic she's the surprise opening act in Sex and the City 2. On television she co-stars with Aretha Franklin in a Snickers "Diva" commercial. And on June 30 Minnelli will commandeer HSN (the Home Shopping Network) hawking The Liza Collection, apparel and jewelry. Finally, in September she'll release an album of love songs.
"Miss Minnelli, wow, what a thrill to speak with you," I say, my voice getting louder because it's really Liza Minnelli, and she just called me "darling." I congratulate her on her turn in the Sex and the City sequel, singing and dancing to Beyoncé's Single Ladies at a gay wedding. "What a way to open a film."
She laughs that laugh -- Fraélein Sally Bowles from Cabaret, divine decadence and all. I imagine she's wearing green nail polish. "Oh honey, thank you!"
"What's your reaction to the movie's reaction?"
"I know all the girls. The movie, the premiere, the fans -- it's been such fun."
"How did you land the cameo?"
"They asked me, darling. I couldn't do anything without calling Ron Lewis," she says about her longtime friend, director and choreographer, who with Minnelli won a 2009 Tony for Liza's At The Palace ...! Broadway show.
"I said to him, 'You think I should do it?' and Ron said, 'You wanna do it?' and we both said, 'Sure.'?"
"What will your fans experience with your one-woman show?"
"I want them to have a good time, darling. I try to make the stage like a living room. I figure we are in there together for two hours."
"Will you take questions from your fans?"
"I'll talk to the audience. No questions, honey. And I'll perform stuff from my new album."
"New album? That's terrific. What's the title?"
"Confessions. It's all love songs, darling. Love songs, seduction songs, songs that my parents played, mostly my father."
"Can you share some of the song titles?"
"Hang on, honey, just a minute. The dog's on my lap. I'm looking. I have so many pieces of paper in front of me. Hang on."
I do. After all, it's not often one gets a legend on the phone. (Sorry, Mom.)
"I'm back," she says, song list in hand. "One song is called Confessions. I heard it on an old Judy Holliday album that my dad had. Also, He's a Tramp from the movie Lady and the Tramp." And then she breaks into song: "He's a tramp but I love him, breaks a new heart every day."
I want to jump in but stop myself. After all, she's the star.
"There's also I Must Have That Man from an album from Kay Thompson," her godmother who had a nightclub act in the '40s. Thompson also coached Minnelli's mom, Lena Horne and Frank Sinatra, whom Minnelli called Uncle Frank when she joined him and Sammy Davis Jr. as part a newer Rat Pack in Las Vegas. "And I also sing At Last."
"I love that song. I bet you sing it like nobody's business."
And she does: "At l-a-a-a-a-a-s-t, my love has come a-l-o-o-o-o-o-n-g. Join me, darling," she invites.
And suddenly, we're a phone duet: "At l-a-a-a-a-a-s-t my love has come a-l-o-o-o-o-o-n-g. My lonely days are over and life is like a s-o-o-o-o-o-n-g."
I daydream for a millisecond: "Liza and Michael: Together at the Majestic!" But now I'm back. And Liza isn't. There's complete silence. So I wait.
And then, out of the blue, she declares: "You fascinate me so."
"I do? Wow!" I humbly reply. "Thank you so much, but Miss Minnelli, you're the one I find fascinating!"
"No, darling. That's the name of another song."
I'm flummoxed so, like a contestant on Jeopardy, I stick with the category, Liza Minnelli Love Songs. "What do you love about these songs?"
"The words. The thought behind the words," she says. Another pause, then this: "And that I get to sit. But you know me, I don't sit for long. I'm all over that chair."
We both laugh. I bring up her hip surgeries and how she's such a survivor.
"I just try to entertain, honey. And I do it without fireworks and special effects."
"Almost like vaudeville," I say.
"Yes. The purest form of being on stage is the spotlight, the person and a microphone."
"Because you're a performer," I tell her.
"I'm an entertainer," she corrects. "I've always felt that I've been an entertainer, ever since I saw Charles Aznavour. That's who I learned it from. My God! He was my inspiration! He taught me everything I know."
"He's a terrific songwriter," I say about the Frenchman she has often credited for his brilliance and her own.
"I'll say. He wrote so many fabulous songs. I do a song he wrote called What Makes a Man -- it's about a gay man. It is a tender and brilliant song. I don't know that I'll be doing it on my tour."
"But Miss Minnelli, you have such a big gay following, you ...
"I might," she says thoughtfully. "You will be at my show, won't you darling?"
"From wherever you're sitting shout What Makes a Man, and I'll sing it, honey."
"You're on! But back to your big gay audience and your staying power."
"I don't know why that is. I have no idea. I just throw on those lashes and get out there. But honey, I'm grateful to everyone who comes to see me."
"What keeps you going in such a tough business?"
"I guess it's all about the music. Yes, the music and the singing. Singing is acting with music. That's what I learned from Fred Ebb and John Kander and Charles Aznavour. ... Honey, the band is waiting."
I'm confused. "The band? Did I catch you during a rehearsal?"
"The band is waiting," she repeats kindly. "It's been simply marvelous talking with you. You will come backstage after my show, won't you, Michael? Tell them Liza asked you to come backstage."
"I can't wait," I reply.
And then it hits me: She does find me fascinating.