Saturday, June 5, 2010
Liza Minnelli to unveil 'new persona' at Chicago Theatre
BY BILL ZWECKER Sun-Times Columnist
When you meet Liza Minnelli, the first thing you notice are the eyes -- amazingly large, dark and usually darting around the room, keeping pace with her rapid-fire, always-engaging conversation.
But on the phone -- as was the case recently -- naturally it's the instantly recognizable voice of "Liza With a Z." The phone rings, you pick it up and suddenly you hear that throaty, slightly raspy, unmistakable Minnelli ''hell. ... Oh!'' and you are truly off to the races with one of the few remaining stars for whom ''legend'' is an appropriate description.
Minnelli, who is calling to chat about her concert Sunday at the Chicago Theatre, is almost out of breath, having just rushed in from a rehearsal.
Yet without missing a beat, she dives into her thoughts about Chicago. Minnelli quickly reminds us that it was in Our Town, where not only she and her mother, show-biz icon Judy Garland, enjoyed sold-out houses and adoring fans, but also where her father, film director Vincente Minnelli launched his career.
''Chicago always had a special place in Daddy's heart. It's where he started out," she said. "Right there at the Chicago Theatre, first doing costumes, then sets and then lighting -- before moving on to New York and Broadway. Then, of course, out to California when he got into the picture business,'' added Minnelli, using a quaint reference to the world of Hollywood.
Though Minnelli stressed her excitement at returning to Chicago, she did reveal, ''I'm scared.''
''It's all about this new album and the way people will see me perform songs from it,'' she said, almost in a whisper. ''Let me explain. For years -- and I really mean many years -- buddies of mine, like Joe Pesci or Tony Bennett -- have said, 'Why don't you make an album, singing the way you do when you're at your house or someone else's house -- singing at the piano after dinner.'
''At first I didn't understand what they meant, until a couple of friends like Joe said, 'I mean, like who you really are. The Liza we all know. Very intimate, personal and relaxed.'
''Then I got it! But this is why I'm scared. They were talking about me merely sitting still and just ... well, singing. You've got to understand, that for me, unless I'm jumping around a stage and sweating and waving my arms, I think I'm not earning my money!
''Now, I'm going to do some of that Sunday, but I'm also going to incorporate some of this new Liza persona and songs from the new album as well.''
That CD, called ''Confessions," due out in September on Decca, was created with her longtime collaborator and pianist Billy Stritch -- himself a mainstay in the world of cabaret. The album and its new direction for her musical career was another homage to her father.
''There was this Judy Holliday album we had at the house in Los Angeles when I was growing up," she said. "It was an album she did with [bandleader] Gerry Mulligan, and there was this song on it, 'Confession,' that all of us loved so much. So when I began thinking of doing this album, I remembered that song and realized it could be a good jumping-off point for 'Confessions.' ''
Besides making music, Minnelli has been making movies again. Most recently, she scored a much-hyped cameo in ''Sex and the City 2,'' in which she officiates and performs at the gay wedding of characters Stanford Blatch and Anthony Marantino. That appearance also scared her -- ''almost as much as baring my soul on this new album!''
Though Minnelli may be a four-time Tony winner, along with racking up an Oscar, Grammy, two Golden Globes and and Emmy, "being part of 'Sex and the City 2' was strangely intimidating for me, when they first asked.''
As for covering Beyonce's "Single Ladies'' in the wedding reception scene, she said, laughing, ''It was a hoot! Great fun and I was very touched when all of the girls came [to the set] for it when we filmed it -- and three of them aren't even in that scene!''
Clearly, Minnelli -- like her mother -- has long been idolized by the gay community, and was married to at least one gay man, the late Peter Allen. (The jury's still out on former spouse David Gest.) While she didn't discuss her father's bisexuality, Minnelli did laugh and repeat her recent "No s--t, Sherlock!" line -- her response when earlier asked if she considered herself a gay icon.
"Like Mama, I have always had many gay friends, and I think gay men in particular relate to me. After all, they can understand the many ups and downs we all face on the road of life," said Minnelli, perhaps a reference to her own battles with various addictions.
On how she's doing with bumps in the road of life right now, she said, ''I couldn't be doing better. I really am. I feel great and can't wait to get to Chicago!''
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