Liza's at the Palace...!
Superstar Liza Minnelli serves up a highly energetic and occasionally extraordinary new act that's sure to satisfy her fans.
True, there are moments during this 2-hour-and-15-minute show in which you might focus on a minor distraction -- like will she sustain that last note (possibly not) or who designed those sparkly costumes (there's no program credit; and I'm guessing they're vintage Halston) or, more than once, will she absolutely collapse from lack of breath (luckily, no). However, you'll mostly be kept rapt by the sheer charisma and showmanship that Minnelli brings to the stage.
To get the big questions out of the way, Minnelli's voice isn't what it was many years ago, but it's strong and powerful and mostly gets the job done, and she moves rather than really dances. But her skills as a performer, honed over five decades, and her genuineness and vulnerability make these shortcomings seem relatively unimportant.
Director and choreographer Ron Lewis has wisely structured the show so that it fulfills two purposes. The first is to give the singer's loyal fans what they really want -- namely, her signature tunes like "Cabaret," "Maybe This Time," "And The World 'Goes Round," and, yes "New York, New York." If none of the renditions are definitive, they're still undeniably satisfying. Still, it's her more unexpected choices -- a very funny "If You Hadn't, But You Didn't," a strikingly powerful "My Own Best Friend," a beautifully acted "What Makes a Man a Man," and, as an opening night encore, a heartfelt "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (a song made famous by her mother, Judy Garland) -- that leave the strongest impression.
The act's other -- and perhaps more notable -- raison d'etre is for Minnelli to teach us about her godmother Kay Thompson, the legendary "renaissance woman," who co-starred in the film Funny Face, wrote the series of Eloise children's books, and was the chief vocal coach and arranger for MGM in its movie musical heyday. Naturally, Minnelli doesn't deliver any boring old history lesson; instead, she shares priceless stories of her times with Thompson and, even better, recreates parts of Thompson's famed nightclub act with the Williams Brothers. (Yep, that's Andy and his siblings).
Superbly aided by Johnny Rodgers, Cortes Alexander, Tiger Martina, and (TheaterMania contributor) Jim Caruso -- not to mention the fabulous Billy Stritch on piano and a top-notch orchestra -- Minnelli demonstrates Thompson's genius, both through the uptempo songs she wrote ("Hello, Hello," "Jubilee Time" and "I Love a Violin") and her novel arrangements of standards including "Clap Your Hands" and "Basin Street Blues." (The boys get their own well-deserved chance in the spotlight with an exuberant take on "Liza," co-written by Minnelli's godfather, Ira Gershwin.)
Even if this show isn't Minnelli's first visit to the Palace -- the house of her mother's greatest stage triumph -- there's still a sense of history to the show; one which Minnelli acknowledges by doing the "Palace Medley" originally sung by Garland, and here given a new introduction by David Zippel, John Kander, and Stritch.
More importantly, now that the star is definitely back in fighting trim, let's hope it's not her last time on the stage of the Palace -- or any Broadway theater. For when Liza's in command, the clouds absolutely roll away.