Liza Minnelli has canceled her Spokane appearance — along with six other West Coast dates — because of a bronchial infection.
Broadway, the Palace Theater, August 1967. A mob of super-fans have been shrieking for an hour. They’re in a frenzy because their very favorite singer is here for one last night, and even if she’s best known for a movie she made decades ago, they still would do anything to see her, hear her, reach out to her.
With her stomping, screaming fans raising the decibel count, the famous singer is well into her concert now, and she attempts a difficult song with a wide range, and — according to William Goldman’s account in his book The Season — “it’s bad for her, hard for her, because the voice is incapable of holding a note anymore, and ‘Just in time’ goes ‘Just in tiiiiimmme’ and she can’t make it last, so she makes a sudden campy gesture, and they love it and scream over it.”
And then the famous singer launches into one of her most famous songs, and at the end “is a tough note, high and climactic,” Goldman writes. “As she gets to it, she spreads her feet just a little wider, and suddenly she’s eating the mike — it’s down her throat, jammed — and from somewhere she found it, because at precisely 10:30, on the word ‘mine,’ she hit the high note with all she had and on the button perfect, and you could actually hear them gasp because she did it, she got a note right, a loud note yet, and she got it. It wasn’t just that she was on pitch — she’s almost always on pitch, or at least you know she knows where the pitch is if she’s off it — it was pitch plus volume plus timbre plus whatever else it is that distinguishes one voice from another, and this was Garland’s voice, the old Garland’s voice, back again, just like in the movies, and even though it was only for one note, it was enough to tear the place apart.”
That was the kind of effect that Liza Minnelli’s mother had on people — even when she was 45, even when she had less than two years to live.
Liza was there that night in ‘67 — she “came up from the audience” during a brief interlude when Judy wasn’t singing, Goldman writes, “and talked with her mother awhile before singing, stunningly, ‘Cabaret’” — and she was only 21 then, still four years away from playing Sally Bowles for the cameras.
But Liza Minnelli is 64 years old now — and honey, that makes every fishnet- and corset-wearing man in America consider having some work done.
Because life may be a cabaret, old chum, but it’s still slipping past us.
Judy Garland’s fans would rave about how she was ageless, how she had suffered, suffered so much, but still triumphed. And her daughter — with all the addiction and heartbreak, with the recovery from encephalitis, with all the replacements of knees and hips and husbands — is just the same.
Talking on her cell phone last month while stuck in New York City traffic, Liza laughs at the suggestion. “I think everyone has suffered and triumphed. But it’s good to show how you’ve triumphed,” she says. “You know, when I watched Mom, I wasn’t struck by her vulnerability. I was always drawn to songs with lyrics like, ‘You’ve made me so strong’ or ‘Look at me, I’m the smart one’ [laughs]. Just stand up and belt it out, dammit.”
Liza’s willing to make fun of herself, including the Snickers diva commercial and the bit about how surreal it is going to AA meetings, because “it’s supposed to be Alcoholics Anonymous, and I’ve never been anonymous.”
“My family was very funny,” she says. “And the people around us were hilarious. When I played Las Vegas early in my career — you know, I basically ran away from home when I was 15 and never took a dime from my parents after that — and I would sit around, sharing stories with all these comedians, just in coffeehouses.
“It’s a glass-half-full thing: If you’re full of yourself and think too much of yourself, you miss out on life.”
On Friday night, along with a sextet led by her longtime accompanist Billy Stritch, she’ll perform standards (and not-so-standard songs) from last month’s release, Confessions: Etta James’s “At Last” and Sinatra’s “All the Way,” but also Cy Coleman’s amusing “You Fascinate Me So,” which uses fancy language to describe basic desires: “I feel like Christopher Columbus when I’m near enough to contemplate/ The sweet geography descending from your eyebrows to your toe.”
Liza still performs about once a week — after her stop here, she’s booked into Appleton, Wisc., and Joliet, Ill. Meanwhile, fanboys bitch at each other in discussion forums, debating whether Liza’s recent live performances are divine or cringe-inducing.
Writing a mixed review in the Los Angeles Times about a Hollywood Bowl concert last year, Charles McNulty remarked that while “her belter’s voice was unreliable,” Liza remains a survivor: “If Minnelli didn’t exist, show queens would have to invent her.”
Two years ago, Liza won a Tony for a “Special Theatrical Event.” And the theater she played it in? The Palace. (She’s quick to mention that she has played the Palace three times now since that night in ‘67.)
you can scoff all you want, folks, but musical-theater royalty is
coming to town, and what good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear
the music — Liza’s music — play.