The many lives of Liza
By Andy Argyrakis
From the pages of the Daily Journal
She’s an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, Golden Globe and Tony Award winning actress/multi-platinum singer who just so happens to be the daughter of celebrity super couple Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli. It’s a one of a kind description that could only fit Liza Minnelli, who’s incredibly storied career continues to wind down unpredictable avenues through today. While most remember her for films like “Cabaret,” “Arthur” and “New York, New York” (accompanied by the smash theme song), the showbiz star recently found fame with younger generations playing Lucille Austero on Fox’s “Arrested Development.” Following the show’s completion in 2006, Minnelli returned to her musical whims, releasing a restored version of the 1972 concert film Liza With a ‘Z’ on DVD and returning to the road with a brand new concert. In a recent interview with the Daily Journal during rehearsals in New York, the 62-year-old entertainer talked about all of the above, plus paying tribute to her godmother Kay Thompson (cabaret singer, MGM arranger, vocal coach to Garland, Lena Horne and Frank Sinatra) on tour.
RECALLING KAY: Well the new show is two acts and within it in there’s a tribute to my godmother, who’s name was Kay Thompson. She was a musical arranger and director, the vocal coach and vocal arranger for all of MGM, a huge radio star, plus she starred in “Funny Face,” had a nightclub act and wrote (the children’s book series) “Eloise.” She was a renaissance woman to say the least and was the greatest gift my parents ever gave me. Her music is the best I’ve ever heard- between her harmonies and arrangements, there’s nothing really like it! It’s hipper than anything you’ll hear today. It’s witty and funny and she was just so original with it.
THE SHOW ITSELF: The first act is stuff that I love to sing and people have talked to me about that I know they like to hear, so I thought “well why not do that?” Songs like “Cabaret,” “Maybe This Time” and “The Man I Love.” And then the second act is basically about Kay. I have four guys with me- she performed her nightclub act with the Williams Brothers, one of which was Andy- and I have four wonderful guys who all knew Kay and the Williams Brothers! Ron Lewis directed and choreographed the show, who’s one of my favorite of all time, and it’s been received very well.
CD COMING SOON: We’re putting these (Kay Thompson) songs on CD and we’ve done the vocals already. Phil Ramone (Sinatra, Barry Manilow, Paul McCartney, Ray Charles) is producing it and it’s good fun you know. I don’t know yet when it will release because I want to get everything settled with (what record label) I’m gonna take this to.
“LIZA WITH A ‘Z’”: I worked on that myself and it turned out well don’t you think?
I think it’s wonderful to have this new technology because when we did “Liza with a ‘Z’” in the 1970s, it was on 16 millimeter film and you didn’t have any of that clarity. Now (with the restoration) it looks like (choreographer/director Bob) Fosse would’ve wanted it to look. The technology today is amazing and so is everything that can be done on the computer, even over the last three years!
FAVORITE FILM: I don’t know, gosh, they were also so different you know! I think what Fosse did in “Cabaret” was brilliant, “Arthur” was hilarious and I think “The Sterile Cuckoo” was the best part I ever got. And “New York, New York,” I loved that and am so glad so many people liked it!
FUTURE FILMS? I’ve been working on this new show so hard that I have not even thought about that! I want to get this done and do it properly and then I’ll start considering offers, but I’ve really been concentrating on this up until now.
“ARRESTED” INTERESTS: It’s been wonderful and the people who work on it are so great. We all stay close and they send me the DVDs to watch after each episode, but I’m not much on going back and looking at myself.
BEST ADVICE FROM MOM: She gave me an acting lesson- both my parents did at times- where she taught me a technique where you substitute the words that you’re actually saying. Like let’s say you’re supposed to say “how are you today?” and she would set up the line by telling me “well you’re bumping into this person who you haven’t seen and who hasn’t called you, so you’re not really saying ‘how are you today?’ but you’re saying ‘why haven’t I heard from you?’” She gave the line a back story, which is really a technique that’s magic. It’s what you don’t say that’s important and that was her way!
ON STAGE WITH JUDY: I did a concert in London with her at the Palladium in 1964. You know I was so young, but oh that was fun!
CHICAGO CONNECTIONS: Well my Dad was born in Chicago and he did the costumes for the Chicago Theatre for about ten years before he came to Broadway. In New York, he started to do sets, costumes and then went on to direct all the Radio City Music Hall stuff and his own Broadway shows.
FATHER FOCUS: What I love, is my father’s finally getting the credit he deserves because he revolutionized film. He invented the cramp dolly, he was the first one to put certain colors together on the screen and he was such a revered director. He was so shy and he never asked for publicity, but now people are beginning to see how extraordinary he was. I remember asking him once when I was about 10 to tell me what acting was, and at first he said “I don’t know,” but then he came back later when he was putting me to bed and said “I think acting is hearing something for the first time and saying something for the first time.” If you can achieve that, you’re doing it!
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