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The Legendary


Liza Minnelli

 

1


First UK Tour in Over 20 Years

 


25 May – 6 June, 2008


London Coliseum


May 25 – 27, 2008

 

 

 

 

THE IMPOSTERSary Couzens

A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

Nothing could have prepared me for Liza Minnelli, circa 2008, as she almost seems to be a mirror image of herself, at the time of her seventies, Cabaret fame. This sleek, agile, back on form Liza, took the audience by storm with her knock-em’-dead signature numbers, as well as her incomparably emotive renderings of many other songs. Never having seen Liza Minnelli perform live before, I can only say in hindsight that I feel honoured to have been there and have an opportunity to share the experience.


As the Coliseum began to fill, the excitement was almost palpable. We were going to see a singer who is generally, considered to be one of the finest divas, Broadway or otherwise, of our time, and, one of the last living connections to the glamorous Hollywood of a bygone era.  Were it not for the fact that Minnelli won a Tony Award for Best Actress at the tender age of nineteen, (she still holds the record for being the youngest to do so) she may have acquired fame by association, due to her legendary parents, Judy Garland and film director Vincent Minnelli, and their host of famous friends.  Her mother had passed away four years before Liza won her Best Actress Oscar for Cabaret at the age of twenty six. Many had recently read about the seven hour delay Minnelli and her nineteen man entourage had experienced the day before in U.K. customs, due to a missing work visa. The lost time had only left them a few hours to prepare for Minnelli’s London opening the day before.  Nevertheless, reviews of her performance that evening had, for the most part, been glowing. However, as I attended the extra, added performance on Monday, May 26th, my report, though also a favourable one, may differ somewhat from those you have already read.


When the lights went down, and the curtain went up, the band began to play. And then, there was Liza Minnelli herself, standing at the back of the stage in a shimmering black outfit, her boyish bob gleaming under the spotlight, smile beaming, looking every inch a star! Needless to say, pandemonium ensued as everyone jumped to their feet for the first of many standing ovations!


Once everyone had reclaimed their seats, before Minnelli had even started her first number, some of her most devoted fans were still going wild, as one woman shouted, ‘You look terrific!’ to which the new, slim-line Liza responded, ‘You do too.’ Others called out her name, while one man cried out ‘I Love You,’ at which she smiled and answered, ‘I love you too.’ Her attentiveness to her fans brought her late mother to mind, as Ms. Garland’s enthusiasts were similarly passionate in their demonstrations of affection towards her, and her responses to them were no less heart-felt or fond.


Minnelli launched into her first song with a smile, before changing the mood, ‘My ship has sails made of silk, ‘she sang, her sublime voice caressing every word. As she continued on from, ‘When My Ship Comes In,’ to ‘The Man I Love,’ it struck me that she has that rare ability to bring each and every word of a song to life. The band built up the drama on the torch song, as she sang, ‘He’ll look at me and smile…’ Pure magic! Minelli’s control of the emotional content of a lyric has to be heard live to be appreciated. She may just be the last of the great torch singers. ‘Would you?’ she sang, looking at an audience member in the stalls. In one, broken heart beat she had the audience in the palm of her hand.


Frequent anecdotes between songs provided moments of humour and reflection, and sometimes both. ‘Notice anything different?‘ Minnelli asked with a twinkle, not waiting for an answer. ‘I lost forty-four pounds!’ On that note, she eased into a comical song about an addiction to supermarket cakes, ‘Sara Lee.’ ‘Do you know any old people, besides me?’ she asked, after the vigorous applause that followed. Liza was back in town, and it was great to see her! ‘I’m Living Alone and I Like It’ came after a story about a wonderful looking elderly woman she’d spoken to on the street in New York, who’d, apparently, given the title of that song as her ‘secret’. The story Minnelli told after that number was a favourite.


When Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera, the original cast members of Chicago were starring in the show on Broadway in the seventies, (Minnelli muffled the numbers to make them indistinguishable) Gwen had to take seven weeks off, for medical reasons, during which time Minnelli ‘filled in’ as Roxy Hart, at her insistence, without any advertising, as the show’s producers had then ‘never heard of one star replacing another.’ Minnelli went on to relate how much she’d enjoyed the announcements, before each show that ‘Gwen Verdon will not be in tonight’s performance, as well as, ’the subsequent groans that followed, and the wild cheers after, when ‘tonight Roxy Hart will be played by Liza Minnelli’ was announced. The song she sang from Chicago, which was pulled from the film for some unfathomable reason, ‘I’m My Own Best Friend’ was one of the best of the bunch, as the audience was also treated to Minnelli, singing her song in character, as Roxy Hart. The cheeky way she said the line, ‘She was put in jail for killing her husband,’ generated great laughter from the crowd. 
‘Remember when I used to sit down in the second act?’ Minnelli quipped afterwards, ‘Now I sit down in the first.’ After talking about how Kander and Ebb, who wrote Cabaret had been searching for a song for her to sing in one scene of the film, Minnelli went into one of her greatest numbers, ‘Maybe This Time,’ proving still further that she can carry the torch like nobody’s business! Speaking of which, her claim to the audience afterwards that ‘She has no family now,’ and ‘It’s just you guys, you’re it,’ seemed to further the intimacy she’d already, so effortlessly created with many.


After talking briefly about her seven hour delay in UK customs, and introducing the members of her band, Minnelli claimed she was going to sing ‘something nobody’s ever heard,’ prompting belting out, ‘What good is sitting alone in your room,’ in as spirited a manner as though she’d never sung it before. For those of you who’ve been hiding under a rock since the seventies, or possibly, weren’t even on this planet yet, that’s the opening line of Cabaret. Naturally, it only took a few words of that particular song to bring everyone in the Coliseum to their feet, closing act one with yet another standing ovation! Minnelli, in rare form, paused on the line, ‘that’s what comes from too much liqueur and pills,’ before going into an over the top English accent for a few lines, addressing the audience as ‘duckie.’ But the real kicker on that super song was her twisting of its punch-line to ‘When I go, I’m NOT going like Elsie,’ meaning she’s staying off booze and pills for keeps.  Yet another legendary moment! Some of the most memorable portions of the first act had been centred on great songs of self-reliance and independence.


To refer to Minnelli as a survivor would be a definite understatement, as she now has, not only two artificial hips and a wired knee, but has also, in the course of her span, conquered drug and alcohol abuse, as well as an operation for throat polyps in 1997 which, left her unable to sing for eighteen months, and a life-threatening bout of encephalitis, contracted from a mosquito bite in 2000, not to mention her string of failed relationships, and come out of it all with, not only her unstoppable talent intact, but her sense of humour about herself as well. Therefore, to add that Minnelli is also a trouper would be right on the money!


When Minnelli returned for Act Two, she was wearing a different, looser black trouser outfit, with a long, pale pink scarf at its neck. ‘But the World Goes Round,’ was yet another number that singing storyteller Minnelli told so well. ‘Sometimes your heart breaks with a deafening sound’…Oh, Oh…Take it from me, there’s still gonna be, a summer, a winter, a spring and a fall.’ Simply, sublime.


Within the context of Act Two’s lengthily song and dance routine based on the 1940’s nightclub act of Minnelli’s late godmother, arranger and close family friend Kay Thompson, there were also tributes to her mother, Judy Garland, for whom Kaye had also arranged. Minnelli cited Kay, who’d also had a hugely successful radio show in the ‘50’s, as one who had ‘revolutionised musicals.’ The routine in Kay’s memory was, however, a little too long, despite the fact that she’d been a surrogate mother to Minnelli following the death of her own mother. Apart from ‘Basin Street Blues,’ most of the numbers, on which Minnelli was accompanied by four harmonising, perma-smile fellows, posing as Andy Williams and his brothers, were of the overly sentimentalised type typically featured in musical films from that era, which, would generally be viewed as sandwich making ops for 21st century television viewers these days. Having said that however, it’s just possible that some of the songs in question may have delighted the cornier amongst us, and it has to be said that all of them were performed with Minnelli’s usual panache and verve, which, helped make them listenable. Nevertheless, that portion of the show could do with some pruning, as it comprises the lion’s share of the second act. That said, Minnelli’s impassioned version of one of her mother’s A Star is Born numbers, Mammy, sounded and felt like a moment of musical history in the making! And to see sixty-two year old Minnelli shaking her artificial hips and kicking her wired knee(s) up in a short outfit designed to show off her great gams as though nothing short of a steamroller on overdrive could stop her was nothing was truly, inspiring!  If the cheers accompanying most of the numbers in the show were anything to go by, I certainly wasn’t alone in my thinking.


There were a few sour grapes among the roses, however, as some seated in the Dress Circle chose to mutter audibly and, rather relentlessly about Ms. Minelli’s appearance, (which, was, unbelievably fantastic!) personal history and between song patter, which, if a bit over the top in terms of being grateful for small mercies, was, at least, positive. Which, makes you wonder at the sense in paying top dollar for a ticket to a concert, at which you behave as if you’re at home on your sofa watching telly!


Kander and Ebb have written many songs that Minnelli has made her own among them is one, which they ‘sent to her,’ as she put it, ‘for a film I was making with Robert DeNiro.’  She added that she’d thought it was ‘the best song she’d ever heard.’ Apparently, Kay Thompson helped her work out the singing of that particular number over the telephone. It was, of course, ‘New York, New York’ a sure-fire anecdote to any case of corn OD, or blues and yet another cause for a jubilant standing ovation!


In the absence of any programme or hand-out, I cannot site individual musicians, apart from Minnelli’s long-time pianist and friend, Billy Stritch, who provided beautifully subtle accompaniment, particularly on the ballads. With, the exception of her encore number, a wonderfully moving rendition of that war-time favourite, ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’, which she performed sans musical accompaniment,  sending chills straight up spines, as if in answer to any sceptics amongst us.


Having now experienced Liza Minelli in concert, there is no doubt in my mind that she is, and will always be, a bona-fide star, both as a performer, and, as a person, particularly in terms of her unsinkable determination, drive and talent.  All of which, served as reminders, that stars are born, not made.

 

 

25th May 2008             London Coliseum, London                  Box Office: 0871 220 0260
27th May 2008             London Coliseum, London                  Box Office: 0871 220 0260
30th May 2008             Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham                      Box Office: 0115 989 5555
2nd June 2008              Bridgewater Hall, Manchester              Box Office: 0161 907 9000
4th June 2008               Symphony Hall, Birmingham              Box Office: 0121 780 3333
6th June 2008               Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow                Box Office: 0870 040 4000
Ticket prices: £35-£95.  Subject to booking fee.
All usual ticket agents or www.seetickets.com

 

 

 

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