Jack Everly, the Principal Pops Conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, set the scene for Liza Minnelli’s concert this past Wednesday evening, when he referred to the daughter of Judy Garland and film director Vincent Minnelli, as “theatre royalty,” during his opening remarks to a full house at the Hilbert Circle Theatre.
Setting the tone further, Everly conducted the ISO during the first part of the concert as it paid tribute to her mother and her era, by performing music from some of her classic films and others. Selections included: “The Wizard of Oz,” “Meet Me In St. Louis,” “Easter Parade,” “Singin’ In The Rain,” “Strike Up The Band,” “Dancing In The Dark,” and “Begin The Beguine.”
After the intermission, Minnelli was finally introduced to the diverse crowd, made up primarily of adoring fans. Bounding onto the stage dressed in a black sequined top and pants, wearing a long red scarf, Minnelli burst into “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and was greeted with screams, cheers and the thunderous applause of a frenzied audience.
At one point, the show business icon failed to hit a high note, after which she interrupted the song and said to her conductor, Jamie Schmidt, “Oh for Christ sakes…I can do better than that!” Upon doing so, the crowd roared its approval and shouts of “We love you Liza,” reverberated all over the theatre as she replied, “I love you too." Showing her vulnerability, she thanked the audience for coming and said, “Before I do a show I always worry but once I’m out here, it’s always ok because we do this together.”
Then, to the absolute delight of an audience comprised of many who stood to applause after each of her numbers, Minnelli sang tunes she is most identified with, pop standards, and songs from her father’s films.
Accompanied by the ISO and her own seven piece band, featuring vocalist, composer, and jazz pianist Billy Stritch, Minnelli held court during a set that lasted for nearly an hour. Her song list included: “Our Love Is Here To Stay,” “I Must Have That Man,” and “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love (which she performed in a duet with Stritch);” “He’s A Tramp,” (written by Peggy Lee for the animated film, Lady and the Tramp);” “Maybe This Time” (from Cabaret), and “Liza with a Z,” (from Minnelli’s 1972 TV concert), both by Kander and Ebb, the songwriting team that contributed to making her a star.
Recalling the time she stepped in briefly for Gwen Verdon, playing Roxie Hart, in the Broadway production of “Chicago,” Minnelli also sang “My Own Best Friend,” which she said was left out the film, much to her regret.
Promoting “Confessions,” her newest CD, Minnelli’s program also included “Confession,” “You Fascinate Me So,” “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You,” and “This Heart of Mine,” from her album.
Closing with “New York, New York” the Kander & Ebb song which has become one of her signature songs (even though Frank Sinatra was the first to make it famous), Minnelli returned after a prolonged standing ovation and numerous curtain calls to tenderly sing Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.”
In an emotional scene reminiscent of those experienced by Garland after some of her legendary concerts at the Palace and Carnegie Hall, Minnelli bowed and reached out to the outstretched hands of those in the front row, taking in the wild applause and cries from the audience, until she left the stage for good.
Despite the fact that Minnelli has apparently lost her upper voice, making it difficult for her to reach, much less sustain high notes, she more than made up for her vocal difficulties with unbelievable stamina, a dazzling personality, sense of humor, and still vibrant and dramatic ability to sell a song.
Also, looking somewhat fragile, Minnelli, 64, who has had her share of health issues, revealed that she’s had a knee replacement, causing her to sit in a director’s chair near the end of her set and next to Stritch on his piano bench during her encore.
Whatever her present physical limitations, Minnelli nevertheless proved beyond a doubt that she can still mesmerize an audience with the kind of pizzazz that can only be delivered by a superstar of her caliber, and with a talent and a pedigree that has made her a show business legend.
For information about the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and its remaining 2010-2011 season, visit its website at www.indianapolissymphony.org or call the box office at 317.639.4300.