“Liza at the Palace”: My Review


I was at the opening last night of Liza Minnelli at New York’s Palace Theater. Spotted inthe audience: Alan Cumming, Elaine Stritch, Mary-Louise Parker, Vincent D’Onofrio. My review comes after the jump.

Review: Liza’s at the Palace

Goddesses never age; divas do. Worship of the former, properly, can remain mired in fantasy. Adoration of the later, if it is not to court lunacy, must adjust to reality. The reality of Liza Minnelli, 62, who has just opened “Liza’s at the Palace” — a monthlong concert engagement at Broadway’s Palace — is that her singing voice is shot. It was never an instrument of Mariah or Christina octaval stretch, nor of the clarion sturdiness of Minnelli’s mother, Judy Garland.

What it had, in its heyday, was a show-business shine that was part genetic and part learned from teachers like Minnelli’s godmother, Kay Thompson, the writer-performer-arranger to whom Minnelli devotes this evening’s second half.

Minnelli’s voice has always worked best in songs by Kander and Ebb, many of which were written for her. The five she does in +Liza+, including “Cabaret” and “And the World Goes ‘Round,” are the show’s highlights. Kander’s music is metallic, to match the bristling glitter of Minnelli’s red, white, and black costumes and the flashing brass of her 12-piece orchestra. The metal of her renditions is now scratched; phrase-ending notes are not sustained. And forget pitch.

Still: it is only when Minnelli sings that we remember why she is a star. Her patter — about Thompson, about Mama, about her four mature back-up guys, who look more like Hollywood agents than chorus boys — reveals the desperation of her attempts at comedy. And her reaching out to the audience each time someone screams “I love you!” exposes the over-eagerness of her desperation. But then the ankle is turned, and the hand is thrust up, and Minnelli sings: much, if not all, is forgiven.

What’s more, there is something touching about Minnelli’s hard-won ability to acknowledge the toll of time. There’s no getting down on bended knee to crown a climax, nor dancing of a more than perfunctory, shake-that-thing thrust. Hers is a battered chassis. To do “Maybe This Time” while seated and make it work: that takes guts. As does the way she deprecates her need for breath after a dance workout.

If on no level I enjoyed this Minnelli outing, directed by her longtime collaborator, Ron Lewis, as much as past shows, I was happy to see the opening-night audience packed with first-timers, kids for whom her near-pathological need for applause carried no shame. Adoration of this diva is no longer possible; veneration: certainly.

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