Liza Minnelli is poised for a comeback. Again.
As she prepares a return to Broadway for the first time in almost a decade, in a new show called “Liza’s at the Palace ...,” opening Wednesday, Ms. Minnelli is looking--hallelujah!--healthy and happy at 62, and sounding strong and grounded.
It was just six years ago... that Ms. Minnelli came roaring back from a brush with death, surgeries to replace two hips and a knee, and the garden-variety tussles with addiction that had plagued her for years. In the spring of 2002 she embarked on a tour of a new show that lived up to its title, “Liza’s Back,” and earned some of the most rapturous reviews of her career. Writing in The New York Times, Stephen Holden hailed the concert as nothing short of a “resurrection.”
Wreckage followed the resurrection, in breathtakingly short order. Ms. Minnelli had married David Gest, the “who he?” impresario whom she credited with engineering her comeback, in a highly publicized wedding (Ms. Minnelli’s fourth) that took place just a couple of months before those New York concerts. Less than two years later divorce papers were filed. The tabloids boiled with unseemly accusations--from Mr. Gest--that made the couple’s freakish nuptials, with Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor in attendance and a now-you-may-kiss-the-bride moment of unforgettable creepiness, look like a decorous tea party.
In retrospect, how does she explain the strangest interlude yet in a life not without notorious episodes?
“Encephalitis,” she deadpanned, with a little extra pop of the doe eyes.
PLUS: Who'd ever think she'd be this svelte again? Back in 2006, after all, many people had written her off for good after a train wreck of an appearance on Larry King Live, where, as Charles Isherwood remembers it, “Looking bloated and sounding bronchial--overexuberant even by her own ebullient standards--Ms. Minnelli chatted loopily, giving rise to new rumors about substance abuse.” (That bizarre interview's no longer on YouTube. Strange.)
But in her prime--and whenever she's in her element--Liza is a peerless performer, a singing, dancing, emoting force of nature. One of my favorite clips of her is this 1992 appearance in Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall, a tribute concert that had a galaxy of Broadway performers taking turns singing from the Sondheim songbook. Patti Lupone belted out Being Alive, Betty Buckley harmonized with a boys' choir on Children Will Listen, Glenn Close (yes, post-Fatal Attraction but pre-Sunset Boulevard) crooned Send in the Clowns, Bernadette Peters crowned the evening with Not a Day Goes By. Liza took to the stage with Back in Business, a song from the Madonna-Warren Beatty starrer Dick Tracy, and she was, every inch of her, electrifying. (Billy Stritch on the piano helped, too, as did the choreography by Susan Stroman, who'd go on to direct and choreograph The Producers.) Here:
[Photos: Richard Termine and Tony Cenicola/NYTimes]