Liza Minnelli in Concert
Liza Minnelli ignites a Hot Summer Night at the Pier.
After a decade or so away from any Seattle stage, the unstoppable Liza Minnelli warmed the hearts of a nearly full house in last night’s appearance as part of One Reel’s Hot Summer Nights at the Pier series, at Pier 92/93 on Seattle’s waterfront. Like Bette Midler, Liza is a performer who must be seen live to be fully appreciated. Her current mini-tour is not a production heavy extravaganza like you would get seeing Bette or Cher, and the ticket price ($55 vs. $150 for Bette’s last show) reflects that. But the audience, largely filled with middle-aged longtime fans and her loyal gay fan-base came to embrace her, and she hugged right back, with great affection and self-mocking humor, as she earned more standing ovations after numbers than I have ever before seen an artist given.
Opening, in a white sequined outfit with a medley of “I Can See Clearly Now” and “I Can See It”, Liza segues into the most apropos number of the evening, Sondheim’s “Old Friends” for that is her audience, people like myself who have seen her from the highs of her 1973 Oscar/Emmy/Grammy awards year, to making something scintillating out of that messy Broadway vehicle The Act to full out Radio City extravaganza’s and right up to today. The voice can sound just fine, and can also sound strained, but never painful, and with an artist who makes lyrics, character, and storytelling her prime concern, that hardly matters anyway.
The Gershwin/Weill evergreen “My Ship”, was sung softly as a caress (to the accompaniment of boat whistles and sea bird calls). After a charming lead-in praising strong women (“Isn’t Nancy Reagan something? I don’t care which political team you’re on”) her Kander & Ebb specialty “Sara Lee” still has us giggling, especially since Liza makes no apologies for her more zaftig latter day figure. A recent Kander/Ebb composition “Don’t Smoke In Bed” is musically in the same vein as many of her other Kander ballads, but with a nicely judged Ebb lyric.
She then tackles a Kander & Ebb song she didn’t introduce, “So What?” from the stage version of Cabaret and shows that she understands the world-weary, yet optimistic Fraulein Schneider very well indeed.
A comic highpoint arose when, in the midst of a plaintive rendition of the standard “The More I See You”, a rather loud train whistle caught Liza’s ear, and she jumped into a few bars of “Clang, clang, clang wen the trolley” without hesitation, before just deciding not to even try to go back to the earlier song. Her homage to her Daddy Vincente Minnelli’s film of On A Clear Day You Can See Forever with “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” showed Liza’s voice at its best, and made an appropriate first act wrap up.
Pianist/vocalist Billy Stritch gave Ms. Minnelli a three song breather/costume change opportunity and was captivating, especially with another Vincent Minnelli film number (“Shine On Your Shoes” from The Bandwagon) and the Gershwin’s almost lullaby like "Liza”, which brought a now black-sequined and sultry Liza back to the stage.
“Fraulein Sally Bowles” made her Cabaret medley of “Wilkommen”, “Money,Money”, “Maybe This Time” and of course “Cabaret” anything but obligatory.
After acknowledging her career long musical director/drummer Bill Lavorgna (fronting a swell ten piece band), she set up the title number from her film New York, New York. LaVorgna then vamped into the same film’s “But the World Goes Round.” “Oh do I sing that now?” she asked with quizzical glee. “Well, if Pappy says that’s next, then that’s next. He knows.” The pair of songs brought down the house, and after many bows, Liza confessed she had no encore prepared, at least with the band. But she favored us with a moving farewell, an a capella “I’ll Be Seeing You.” And I think, I hope somehow, we will be seeing Judy & Vincente’s little girl for a longtime to come.