Writing about Liza Minnelli is kind of like penning a piece on Bob Dylan; everything's been said about her, so whatever text scrolls on your computer monitor feels unimportant or nonrevelatory.
You know Liza, the singing and dancing Queen of Broadway who's Hollywood royalty as the daughter of Judy Garland. Of course, she defined the role of Sally Bowles in "Cabaret," and she might be a little bit daft or kooky, but she's an artist, and that's why we love her.
Even preparing to speak to Liza on the phone is an exercise in redundancy. I mean, outside of her position on unicorns who play basketball, is there anything she hasn't been quizzed about? Maybe the periodic table of elements.
But after a few minutes speaking with her, you realize it doesn't matter what you ask because the point isn't what she says but how she says it.
The perpetually pixie-haired cutie carries a conversation like it's a one-woman stage show.
She casually reels you in with a laid-back self-awareness and queries you about yourself. She involves you in anecdotes about her past as if you were there - even if they happened before you were conceived. She goes into dated, emphatic voices to underscore a mood or point - like taking on a gun moll's breathy attitude to preserve a secret. And she makes you feel like she's having a great time talking to you.
If Liza's Friday night show at the Ferguson Center for the Arts in Newport News is anything like her time on the phone, she's going to give the audience what it wants.
"I always think about the audience's point of view," she said. "You think about your audience and what you'd want to see if you came to see something."
After a half-hour or so on the phone with Liza, you realize that's her brilliance; a simple, very modest sense of self and the world around her.
She's not an egomaniac, even though her resume is enough reason for full-blown diva monster mode. She seems to respect the people around her, particularly the people who show her respect. And she seems to live life with an easy understanding that the world is much bigger than she is.
She comes off kind of like a Zen matriarch, the Siddhartha of stage and screen. Ultimately, I think we can learn more about Liza, and her world, through her philosophical stance on life than through another treatise on her position in American entertainment.
So here are the seven Zen lessons of Liza, divined through a telephone call.
True wisdom is knowing you know nothingThough she was born into Hollywood royalty as the daughter of Garland and director Vincente Minnelli, Liza didn't take her status for granted. She wanted to study dance and acting from the ground up, starting with constructing stage scenery. "I wanted to learn everything. And I learn more every day. I'm so curious. I'm very, very lucky. I was blessed with wanting to learn from the best."
Friendship doesn't end at deathLiza's dear friend Marvin Hamlisch died in August. Rather than dwell on the darkness of the composer's death, Liza cherishes their friendship and realizes their relationship hasn't ended. "You listen to his music and you look at his arrangements, and I'll never be away from him. He's in my heart and in my ears."
When life gives you lemons, eat hamburgers."My mom was so funny. Because sometimes kids were mean in school. I'd come home and say, 'Mom, they said this and that about you.' And she said, 'Listen to me, they're going to say what they're going to say. You let them say it and then we'll go get a hamburger.' We had hamburgers and cheeseburgers, and it was wonderful."
Constant motion overcomes commotion
Rather than focus on life's unpleasant moments, Liza looks to the future. "It's just easier to move forward. If there's something you can't do anything about, just keep going."
True wisdom is knowing you know nothing, Part TwoTalking about today's pop stars' short shelf life, Liza suggests one cause: hiring yes men. "You gotta hire people who know more than you do."
Enjoy life. All of it.Asked what makes her happy, Liza has the best answer: "Dammit, practically everything."
Let the path come to youFor a woman who has done and seen so much, Liza isn't full. She's still hungry for more things to do, but "I don't know what they are right now."
IF YOU GO
Who Liza Minnelli
When 8 p.m. Friday
Where Ferguson Center for the Arts, 1 Avenue of the Arts, Newport News
Cost $67 to $147
More info 594-8752, http://ferguson center.cnu.edu
Robert Morast, 757-446-2546, firstname.lastname@example.org