by Rex Reed, 12/18/2008
I don’t know how many comebacks a been-around human body over 50 is physiologically capable of pulling off before it drops dead, but in her electrifying new show at the Palace, Liza Minnelli, 62, like her mother before her, has done it again. Sparkling and splendid and larky and nervous and overwhelming all at the same time, she is also stylishly slim in Halston perfection. Brilliantly directed and choreographed by Ron Lewis, she looks great. She is fabulously energetic and spirited. The weight she’s lost is the equivalent of a year’s supply of Big Macs! And the standing ovations that never cease are more than deserved. It’s sort of a goddam miracle.
One of the disadvantages of appearing in a weekly newspaper is that everybody else gets their raves into print before you do. So you’ve already read about how the work paid off—that’s the talisman she lives by in her reconverted life, knocking the most jaded New Yorkers right out of their Choos and Blahniks, even if they could still afford them. You’ve already heard that even though she’s sung “Cabaret” and “Maybe This Time” so many times, she often seems more like Sally Bubbles than Sally Bowles; her personal vulnerability and Raggedy Ann eyes gave both songs a huggable wistfulness as fresh as new linen dried on a clothesline. The second act, devoted to the historic nightclub act of her godmother, the lavishly legendary Kay Thompson, laced with anecdotes and musical mayhem that celebrate the vocal arrangements of Kay and the four Williams brothers (many refurbished by jazzy musical supervisor Billy Stritch), assisted by a sensational quartet of singing, dancing fools (Jim Caruso, Johnny Rodgers, Cortés Alexander and Tiger Martina), was merely out of this world. If you don’t know who Kay Thompson was, or what she contributed to the history of show business, now’s the time to find out. And no Roget’s Thesaurus can provide the proper word to describe the tears that flowed through Liza’s final, unrehearsed encore, saluting the holiday season with a song she vowed she’d never do in public—her mother’s own “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” So forget about raised eyebrows, high anxiety and wondering if she’ll show up at all. This is Liza in Triumph, not Liza in Trouble. So she’s had so many knee replacements and hip replacements that you can’t get too close with a Geiger counter. Maybe she no longer kneels in the first act, second act or any act at all. The bottom line is, she’s lost nothing. Once again, she’s run the demons out of the forest, bridged the moat and the Palace is all hers again. She’s not leasing space. She owns the place.
I don’t want to gas about how she inherited her mother’s razor-sharp wit, her father’s flair and what her godmother called “bazazz.” Her talent is unimpeachable, but you have to admire something else—her sheer tenacity in the pursuit of survival. I won’t dwell on how special she sounds with a dazzling 12-piece orchestra, turning the lyrics of every impeccable song in her repertoire into the story of her life. You’ll see and hear that for yourself. But when she sings the original lyrics by Roger Edens for Judy Garland’s debut on the same stage, and your heart stops, think about this: She’s the kind of history lesson that not only brings back the ghosts of Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, Marilyn Miller, Sophie Tucker, Fanny Brice, Eva Tanguay, Judy Garland and the other show business legends who haunt the hallowed Palace stage. She wears on her slim shoulders the responsibility for maintaining the balance and protecting the history of what went before, broadening the horizons of vaudeville in a profound, adult way while adding her own distinctive chapter. Striking gold again in bankrupt times, she can forget about “Liza with a ‘Z.’” I call what she’s doing “Artistry with an A.” What she’s done is create art, and the best, most unique work of art is herself.
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