Monday, December 8, 2008

Liza's at the Palace. . .

  I never experienced Liza Minnelli’s other comebacks, but the one she presented to a sold-out house Wednesday for the opening of Liza's at the Palace. . . proved she has been, to quote from another offering this season, recalled to life. Like the veteran show business legend she is, she proved she still knows how to give ‘em that old razzle-dazzle.

And she looks great, as wide-eyed and sparkly as ever, even though after operations to replace a knee and both hips she can’t dance. About as close to Bob Fosse as she gets is her opening and closing pose -- legs spread, one hand on her hip and the other raised in the air -- but she gamely struts about the stage with plenty of energy, sporting bright ensembles designed by Halston and emoting love to the highest balcony.

What’s even more important, she sounds great. She can still belt out the big numbers, even if her voice warbles just a bit at times and the effort leaves her winded for her chats with the audience.

Right off the bat she lets them know that no matter what has transpired in her life, she’s still the quintessential entertainer and she wants to please, expressing this in the lovely ballad written for the show, "I Would Never Leave You." She sings standards like “Teach Me Tonight” and “He’s Funny that Way” and offers something completely new, a spirited second-act tribute to her godmother and mentor, Kay Thompson, who in the late 1940s was a successful nightclub singer and a groundbreaking vocal arranger and musical director/vocal coach at MGM Studios, but who in our day is better known as the author of the Eloise books and for her role as the sophisticated fashion editor in the 1957 movie “Funny Face” (“Think Pink”).

What I liked best, though, was when she sang out all those songs with attitude like "Cabaret," "Maybe This Time" and one of my all-time favorites, one that never fails to stir my soul, “New York, New York.”

In between she weaves stories of her famous family -- mother, actress Judy Garland, father, film director Vincente Minnelli and godfather, Ira Gershwin -- and her amazing career. She concluded with a moving performance of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” a song made famous by her mom in the film “Meet Me in St. Louis” (directed by her father).

The two-and-a-half-hour show is directed and choreographed by Ron Lewis and features a fabulous onstage 12-piece orchestra, music supervisor Billy Stritch on piano and backup vocals, conductor/drummer Michael Berkowitz and four talented singer/dancers, Johnny Rodgers, Cortes Alexander, Jim Caruso and Tiger Martina.

Ms. Minnelli’s career has had its share of bumps, her well-reported addictions being the cause of most, but she was and is an extremely gifted performer. She received her first Tony Award at 19 for her Broadway debut in Flora, the Red Menace, becoming the youngest artist to win Best Actress in a Musical, a record she holds to this day. She went on to win two more Tonys, for her engagement at the Winter Garden in 1978 and for The Act. In 1972 she won an Oscar for her role in the film version of "Cabaret." In fact, Ms. Minnelli and her parents are the only family in Hollywood history to have all received an Academy Award.

Tickets for Liza’s at the Palace. . ., at the Palace Theatre, located on Broadway at 47th Street, are $25-$125. Call (212) 307-4100 or (800) 755-4000. For more information visit

The production was originally scheduled to run until Dec. 14, but ticket demand extended it through Dec. 28. I pray she can keep that opening night exuberant magic going because Liza’s at the Palace. . . is a passionately rendered show. I hope Ms. Minnelli will bring us many more in years to come.

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