MARY THERESE BIEBELIf you’re into trivia, you probably know Liza Minnelli was only 19 when she won her first Tony Award for her starring role in “Flora, the Red Menace,” a musical about a 1930s artist swept into a group of Communists.
But, did you know that, despite being the daughter of Hollywood luminaries Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli, she didn’t just sail in and land the part?
“I had to audition seven times before I got it,” the “Queen of Broadway” reminisced in a telephone interview prior to her Saturday appearance at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre.
That never-give-up attitude has stayed with the 66-year-old performer through the decades, helping her come back from a debilitating case of encephalitis in 2000, when doctors told her they expected she would not walk or talk, let along sing or dance, again.
“I didn’t believe them,” Minnelli said. “I asked myself, ‘OK, what’ll I do? What do I know how to do? I know how to rehearse.’ So I started to count out loud. I said the ABCs out loud.
“The person who helped me the most was my dance teacher, Luigi.”
Dance teacher and choreographer Eugene Louis “Luigi” Faccuito, whom Minnelli had met when she was a small child, helped her with rehabilitation exercises he had developed for himself after he was partially paralyzed in a car accident.
By June 2002, about 18 months after her grim diagnosis, Minnelli was back on stage at the Beacon Theater in New York, and a comeback CD titled “Liza’s Back!” was released in October of that year.
Fighting her way back to health was just one of many triumphs in a storied career, which has included playing to sold-out audiences for five weeks in 1975 when she replaced an ailing Gwen Verdon in “Chicago.” She received a Tony for the 1977 musical “The Act,” an Academy-Award nomination for Best Actress for her performance in the film “The Sterile Cuckoo,” and the Best Actress award for her 1972 role as Sally Bowles in “Cabaret.”
The movies “Arthur” in 1981 and “Arthur 2” in 1988, the live-for-television concert “Liza with a Z” and her TV specials “Goldie and Liza: Together” with actress Goldie Hawn and the Emmy Award-winning “Baryshnikov on Broadway” with dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov gave her fans more chances to see and hear her in action, as did a December 1999 Broadway tribute to her father called “Minnelli on Minnelli.”
She won a Golden Globe Award for her role as the mother of a child with muscular dystrophy in the made-for-TV drama “A Time to Live” and appeared as Lucille Austero on the critically acclaimed television show “Arrested Development.”
And she continues to tour.
Recently returned from two weeks of concert engagements in South America, she said she had a fantastic time. “I loved Brazil and Rio and the music there, the tangos in Argentina. I tried to take in as much as I could.”
When she’s in concert, she said, she tries to “sing what people know and really want.” During Saturday’s show, which is titled “Liza Minnelli: Confessions” in honor of a recent CD, the set list may well include “New York, New York” and “Cabaret.”
“I also like to put in some surprises,” she added.
“Let’s have a wonderful time together.”
F.M. Kirby Center, Public Square, Wilkes-Barre When:
8 p.m. Saturday Tickets:
$150, $125, $89, $69 More info: