Life's Still a Cabaret


Crack open your dictionaries. Define these words:

"Talent" (Noun): Liza Minnelli

"Star" (Noun): Liza Minnelli

"Tabloid" (Noun) "Target" (Noun): Liza Minnelli

"Survivor" (Noun): Liza Minnelli

Also a Las Vegas headliner as Minnelli, arguably one of the toughest survivors in the annals of showbiz, brings her concert-style show -- winner of a 2009 Tony for best special theatrical event, billed as "Liza at the Palace ...!" -- to the MGM Grand's Hollywood Theatre through Thursday, the performances to be filmed for a PBS special.

A first act packed with selected standards and peppered with signature hits -- including "Cabaret," "Maybe This Time" and the theme from "New York, New York" -- is followed by a dance-tastic second act saluting the late-'40s nightclub routine of her godmother, Kay Thompson.

Fresh from a rehearsal, the bubbly and gracious Minnelli got on the phone to discuss the show, her mom and dad, Bono and a (theoretical) movie of her life:

Question: So how did rehearsal go?

Answer It's great. It's great every day!

Q: How's your health these days?

A: Sennnnnnsational!

Q: Tell us a little about what we'll see at the MGM Grand.

A: The whole first act is all character songs, which I love. Most of my songs are character songs. Different kinds of women, different situations, different experiences. I do a complete study on each song on a separate piece of paper. I have things like, "What color hair does this lady have that I'm singing about? Where does she live? Does she have decals on her refrigerator?" And what led to them right to this second, to this show.

Q: Do you enjoy performing in Las Vegas?

A: Oh yes. I remember coming here, I was just a kid, and people would just disappear from the pool at 5 o'clock sharp and at 7:30, that lobby, people were in tuxes and ties and the women had on their best jewelry and their best black-sheath dress, and it was very exciting and kind of mysterious. I think everybody thought they were in kind of a danger zone. It was wonderful. But I love it now, too.

Q: Recently, your seminal 1972 TV special, "Liza with a Z," has been making the rounds on cable. Has that brought you new fans?

A: I know! It's just great because we cleaned it up. We (originally) did it on 16-millimeter film, and it didn't come out the way that Bob (the late director Bob Fosse) wanted it to come out or I did. So I cleaned it up slowly, it took around six years. When I saw it, I thought, "This is wonderful!" When I showed it to (producers), they said, "Oh, people have to see this."

Q: Has the kind of variety performing you do -- singing, dancing, storytelling, improvising -- become something of a lost art?

A: I'm a modern vaudevillian. I was backstage during a Michael Jackson concert one time and this guy in a top hat and sunglasses comes up to me and says, "Miss Minnelli, I think you're the ultimate performer. When you perform, there's just you and the mic and the lights." And I said, "'Gee, thanks." He walked away, and I said, "That was a very nice guy." And the person next to me said, "Are you nuts? That was Bono!" I said, "Oh, Jesus, I didn't recognize him in that hat." But I'm close to a lot of the current stars.

Q: Your fans have been loyal to you for decades. How do you explain such devotion?

A: I'm so grateful. They're like my friends. The audience is my friend. I never treat an audience like an audience. We're all locked in this box, and maybe for an hour and a half I can remove a little bit of the confusion or the pain they're going through or the joy they're celebrating and celebrate with them. That's my job.

Q: You've lived such an interesting life that it seems like it would make a great movie. What should the title be?

A: "Ho-Hum"! (laughs). I wouldn't be seeing it anyway. I'll probably have joined the choir by then anyhow.

Q: Who could play you?

A: Wow, I've never thought about that. I think Meryl Streep could do a good job.

Q: Speaking of movies, what are the ones fans always mention when they meet you?

A: "Arthur," "Cabaret," "The Sterile Cuckoo." And I did a couple for television that they really like. One of them was called "Parallel Lives" (from 1994). It was a bunch of us (James Belushi, James Brolin, Helen Slater) improvising through the whole movie, a very interesting experience. You can probably find it somewhere.

Q: What's next, after your Las Vegas performances?

A: I'm going to Australia three days after I leave you and doing a different show there. It will be the same first act, but there are so many requests and things that they really want to see that I've put in a new second act. I'm also working on singing a song in the new "Sex and the City" movie.

Q: With all the ups and downs in your life, how do you explain how you've survived it all?

A: Well, you find what's wrong and then you fix it, or you find somebody who can fix it. I never give up.

Q: What do you think your mom (Judy Garland) would say to you now if she were here?

A: I think she'd be saying, "That's the way to do it, kid." And my father (the late film director Vincente Minnelli) would say, "You keep going, my Liza."

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256

 

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