Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009 | 2 a.m.
If You Go
- What: Liza Minnelli
- When: 8 p.m. Friday through Wednesday
- Where: Hollywood Theatre at MGM Grand
- Admission: $75.35 and $113.85; 891-7777, mgmgrand.com
- Liza Minnelli talks to Joe Brown about how Las Vegas has changed.
- Minnelli talks about putting on a show for kids with Sammy Davis Jr.
- Minnelli on touring nonstop.
- Minnelli talks about singing "Single Ladies" during her cameo on the sequel to the "Sex and the City" movie.
Beyond the Sun
Before there was Britney, before Shakira or Madonna — before there was Cher, even — there was Liza.
And so she remains, now and forever, world without end, amen.
Liza Minnelli is playing the Hollywood Theatre at the MGM Grand Friday through Wednesday, and her publicist Lisa (with an ‘S’) tells me I have 10 minutes with Liza (with a ‘Z’), who comes to the phone slightly breathless from running through the song “Jubilee Time” with her orchestra. She’s in New York, rehearsing for the Vegas run, which will reprise this January’s Tony Award-winning Broadway show “Liza’s at the Palace.” (The Vegas show will be filmed Wednesday for PBS and DVD.)
“Hey, Joe, how are ya?” Minnelli says, expertly snapping into instant professional intimacy. She speaks in italics, and packs plenty in the allotted time, even spilling some tea on a major plot point of the upcoming “Sex and the City” movie sequel.
1. Going everywhere
On her latest album, a double-CD studio recording of her “Palace” show, Minnelli tells us everything we need to know in “I Would Never Leave You,” a song tailor-made to who she is at this stage of her five-decade career:
Why do you ask where have I been so long? I’ve been right here, living my life in song. I’ve been around, I’ve been lost, I’ve been found, but I’ve never really been gone ... The smoke has cleared, and look who’s here — the same dame you’ve always known. Oh, I never left, and I would never leave you alone ...
In other words, Minnelli’s making it clear that she ain’t going anywhere.
Or is it that she’s going everywhere?
All of a sudden Minnelli, 63, is omnipresent: She recently popped up on “VH1 Divas Live,” alongside Paula Abdul, played a psychic on “Drop Dead Diva,” and has a role in the “Sex and the City” sequel.
“The setup is this,” Minnelli says, digging into the dish. “The thing opens with the gay guys (Stanford and Anthony) getting married, and it’s wonderful and everybody in the world is there. And I marry them! Then somebody says, ‘Oh Liza,’ or ‘Miss Minnelli’ or whatever, ‘that was just lovely. It was so nice to see you; thanks for coming.’ And I say, “Oh — oh, I’m not leaving. And that’s the setup for me to do (Beyonce’s) ‘Single Ladies’!”
2. Hardest working woman in showbiz
Minnelli’s performing itinerary is staggering. She leaves for a monthlong Australian tour three days after this Vegas stint.
“I had no idea how much you work,” I tell her.
“Neither do I,” she says with a raspy cackle. “But I love it; that’s why I do it. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like it. It’s too hard.”
She’s been up and down, but her returns are not comebacks or “second winds,” she points out sharply.
“I had brain encephalitis — that took a minute. I had a knee operation; that kept me down — but not for long. And since then I have done nothing but work. But you don’t hear about it when I’m down in Australia, or Argentina,” she says, sounding a bit ticked off.
(Word to the wise: If you meet Minnelli after the show, do not bring up Rufus Wainwright’s performance of Judy Garland’s 1961 Carnegie Hall concert.)
3. The singer, not the voice
If you only listened to her “Palace” album, you might wonder whether Minnelli can still cut it as a singer. Her voice has been darkened and roughened by time and well-documented bouts with various substances. There are myriad mannerisms and tics, mashed and gnashed conschonantschhhh, giggles and gasps and a warble that sounds like she’s holding that note while driving over a bumpy patch.
Minnelli seems to survive each song — or she conquers it in a climactic burst of showbiz triumphalism.
All of this is exactly why she is loved. Minnelli is an unparalleled stylist, a persona, a presence — the last living bridge to the great old Hollywood stars.
She tells me she’s making a new album of love songs, “just basically Billy Stritch and I at the piano.”
And that’s good news.
4. For the kids
“I was there before I could walk through the casino — I was too young,” Minnelli recalls about her introduction to Vegas. “It was all so mysterious. At five o’clock everybody disappeared from the pool, and at 7:30 out came the dark suits and girls’ best dresses and best jewelry, and it was kind of like they were in on something dangerous. But now, it’s like this marvelous, marvelous Disneyland. Now, honey, I’m leaping over wheelchairs!”
Always the most social of celebrities since her ’70s heyday, Minnelli is excited about all the stars she says are flying in to see Wednesday’s filmed performance, but she says she can’t name any.
She’s also doing a semi-secret midnight performance that night, calling it “a “gypsy show for the kids.” The kids being her dancing, singing friends from all the other shows in town. (Tickets were given to individuals in the show industry and are not available to the public.)
“You know, we always used to do that,” Minnelli says. “Sammy Davis (Jr.) and I won this great award for doing a show for the kids at 1 in the morning when everyone had finished working, and we did it for years. You do a great show, ’cause they’re all your friends!” she says with a burst of that Oscar-winning Sally Bowles laughter.
5. If you can make it here...
Minnelli scotches the thought that she might settle in for a comfy Vegas residency — surely we could get Cher and Bette to skooch over at Caesars.
“Aw, honey,” she says. “No, I’ve gotten booked solid for almost the next year.”
Lisa with an ‘S’ calls out that the orchestra is back, and though so many questions remain unasked, it’s time to say goodbye. “Come backstage, will ya?” And she’s gone.
I didn’t even get to tell her that singer Gino Vannelli is playing the Hilton on Sunday — maybe they could team up as Minnelli Vannelli.