Sound Advice by Joseph Molnar

This past winter Liza Minnelli made a triumphant return to the stage at the same theater her mother did almost 50 years ago. Or did she?

If one is to judge Miss Minnelli's success by her performance on this CD, entitled Minnelli on Minnelli, one would seriously doubt that she had succeeded. Judging from the audience reaction on the CD you would think she was in top form here and she's not. It's possible they are applauding the Liza that used to be, and that's a shame. Miss Minnelli's voice has thickened over the years and her vibrato is wider than it has ever been. Should we expect her to sound the same as she did 20 years ago?  No.  10 years ago?  No.  5 years ago?  Possibly.  Not all singers keep their voices in shape and maybe Liza needs help. I don't know for sure but one thing I do know is that it is apparent from this recording that her voice is starting to show signs of wear and tear. She often sounds as if she is struggling to hit the upper notes and seems impaired by a bad set of dentures (and I don't even know if she does have them). Will this stop you from enjoying this CD? Maybe. Personally, I found her voice painful to listen to at times.

Oddly enough, though Liza decided to appear at the Palace theater where her mother made a comeback, she based the show around her father's career. Vincente Minnelli directed some of MGM's greatest and most famous musicals - Gigi, Meet Me in St. Louis, Kismet, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and Band Wagon. Not so surprisingly, some of those films featured her mother as well. All the hits are here: "Meet Me in St. Louis," "The Boy Next Door," "Baubles, Bangles and Beads," and "What Did I Have That I Don't Have?" (how ironic that she chose this song). If you can tolerate the new Liza, then you will love her interpretations. Diehard fans of Liza will be thrilled by this CD and casual fans will be turned off.

The last musical of the 20th century was Marie Christine and if this is any indication of where musical theater is headed, I am not so sure I want to see what the 21st Century has to offer. That is not to say I didn't enjoy Marie Christine. I did, just not as much as some people did. When I saw it early in its run I found it to be a very odd piece, one that isn't so easy to take in on one sitting which is why I looked forward to hearing the cast recording. The same can be said of Lincoln Center's offering from last season, Parade. Many people didn't appreciate that show until its cast album appeared a few months later. I have to admit I loved Parade on first viewing and loved much of the music without hearing it repeatedly. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about Marie Christine.

Marie Christine updates the story of Medea to turn-of-the-century New Orleans and Chicago. Three time Tony winner, Audra McDonald, stars as the title character and opposite her is Tony winner Anthony Crivello. Both actors were perfectly cast as the doomed lovers, Marie Christine and Dante Keyes, doomed because she is black and he is white. When Dante enters politics, after being with Marie for 5 years, it is suggested that he leave her and take his children with him. Well, Marie is having none of that. After sacrificing her brother, amongst other things, for him and her children, she decides it is better to kill her children rather than have them live as slaves in his home.

Michael John LaChiusa, responsible for both words and music, has written a modern American opera using plenty of recurring themes. He even manages to incorporate African rhythms into the mix when Christine's mother appears in her subconscious. While the entire score is not instantly accessible there are many haunting melodies - "Before the Morning," "Beautiful," "Way Back to Paradise," "C'est l'amour/To Find a Lover," "Miracles and Mysteries," "I Don't Hear the Ocean," "Tell Me," and "Paradise Is Burning Down." There is even a show stopping tune, "Cincinnati," that Mary Testa gets to let loose on at the beginning of Act 2.

Audra McDonald, once again, offers a powerful performance which demonstrates why she is one of the most sought-after Broadway performers. She is flawless. Anthony Crivello doesn't do too bad himself either. They are supported by Darius de Haas (Marie's brother), Vivian Reed (Marie's mother) and the previously mentioned Mary Testa. All three actors make a strong impression here.

While not everyone will fall in love with Marie Christine, we should all thank RCA Victor for giving it such a lavish recording. It is important to document musical theater such as this show. I might not listen to it often now, but I am sure somewhere down the line I will want to give it another listen.

That's all for now. Join me in two weeks when I will be taking a look at the recently released DVD of Victor/Victoria and Harper gives us his opinion of Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest video release, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

‘Till next time, happy listening!


-- Joseph Molnar

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