Let’s Be Friends and Showstoppers
Published: March 14, 2013
A legend and her charming squire: that would describe Liza Minnelli and Alan Cumming on Wednesday evening at Town Hall in the first part of a two-evening celebration of Ms. Minnelli’s 67th birthday (last Tuesday).
“I’m 12,” Ms. Minnelli remarked at one point late in the show, then briefly lapsed into baby talk.
And in a way she is. Anyone who has followed Ms. Minnelli’s career is aware that from the moment she was born, she has lived inside a show-business bubble where time warps and reality bends. But life happens anyway, and in another sense Ms. Minnelli, who has endured all manner of personal travails, has lived at least nine lives and emerged with her spirit intact and her urge to perform undiminished. What else would she do?
The show had two musical directors (Lance Horne for Mr. Cumming and Billy Stritch for Ms. Minnelli) leading a pop-jazz ensemble.
Over the decades Ms. Minnelli has performed with a long list of younger friends and protégés, of whom Mr. Cumming, 48, is the latest and one of the most gracious and talented. The story of their meeting for the first time at a performance of “Cabaret,” after which she declared, “I want us to be friends for life,” captures the eruptive spontaneity of a performer who never holds back. And that primal impulse to give everything all at once is what kept the audience entranced for much of the concert.
If Ms. Minnelli’s voice is in shambles, she can infuse an electric excitement into a Bob Fosse shoulder shrug. Nowadays she relies on body language and acting to see her through. The strongest moment in her section of a show that opened with a long set by Mr. Cumming was a dramatically explosive rendition of Charles Aznavour’s proto-gay pride anthem, “What Makes a Man a Man.” In an era when transgender issues are a hot topic, it no longer sounds like a musty relic.
The link between Ms. Minnelli and Mr. Cumming is not only “Cabaret,” in which Mr. Cumming played the master of ceremonies in the 1998 Broadway revival, but also their shared vaudevillian expertise. Mr. Cumming knows how to slink across the stage while wearing an insinuating grin that conveys a blush-worthy concupiscence.
High points of his ballad-heavy set included a tender “Falling Slowly,” from “Once”; Adele’s “Someone Like You”; and a mash-up of Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello’s “I Still Have That Other Girl” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind.” A typical performance built from a near whisper into a feverish cry. In a hundred subtle ways, Mr. Cumming took care of his vulnerable, brassy “friend for life” with a courtly protectiveness and empathy.
The engagement concluded on Thursday.