Liza celebrates memories, creates new ones

GOOD MORNING FROM NEW YORK: It was Memories on Memories Wednesday night at the Palace, where Liza bowed in “Minnelli on Minnelli.” She is booked at the theater, which is filled with memories of her mother Judy Garland, through Jan. 1; if the biz holds up, she’ll take a break and pick up again in March at the Gershwin. The New York reviews were not good, but I had a remarkable evening at the theater. Maybe it’s because I’ve known Liza almost all of her life and I knew her mother through her highs and very lows. And I knew her father Vincente Minnelli and was invited to visit many of his sets on the MGM lot. At the party at Radio City Music Hall after the official opening, I asked Liza, “Which part of the show did you like best?” She thought for a second and asked, “Which part did you like best?” It was easy for me. It wasn’t the songs: it was Liza talking as she flashed photos of herself with her father, and it was the film clips (prepared by Liza’s ex-husband and friend forever, Jack Haley Jr.) They told the real story of the life of Liza … The Palace was, of course, packed with pals and well-wishers opening night. (Reviewers covered the previous night, Tuesday.) And it wasn’t surprising to see standing ovations — but, one after another, after almost every song (which she seemed to effortlessly perform)! Of course there was the inevitable pause for an occasional drink of water, and flirtatious repartee with one of the five talented male singer-dancers … Sure, we were all nervous, waiting to hear her voice, which had been so ravaged over the years. But it was strong — strong enough to make anyone happy she had the courage to return. Jimmy Nederlander, sitting behind us at the theater, happily said, “Her voice is back!” Michael Feinstein, who had toured with Liza 10 years ago throughout Europe, also praised her bravery following knee and hip surgeries, and throat treatment for nodes and her vocal chords. “She’s even been taking singing lessons — singing lessons for Liza!” As for cigarettes, she’s down to eight a day, indicating she will soon add that to her list of things of the past. “She’s clean and sober” was the byword. At the party, Liza wove her way through everyone crowding to congratulate her and she never pulled out a cigarette. That would not have been possible a year ago … She smiled that brilliant smile for everyone and nervously tried to acknowledge all. She had a long emotional hug with Sid Luft and brother Joey. Also there: Fred Ebb, who directed and wrote the show, and Billy Stritch her equally longtime friend (who arranged the vocals and, with Marvin Hamlisch, did the musical arrangements and supervision). And Radio City Entertainment’s toppers for this show and Liza’s oldtime friend and costume designer, Bob Mackie, who had created her glittery costumes in the style Halston originated for her.

IF IT SEEMED LIKE the good old days, it was, Arlene Dahl told me; “I felt like I was back on the MGM lot.” Gena Rowlands, too, was happy to see Liza; she’d costarred with Garland in “A Child Is Waiting.” Among the many others cheering Liza were Rosie O’Donnell, Wendy Wasserstein, Linda Lavin, Chita Rivera, Carl Bernstein and Cheri Kaufman (Kaufman-Astoria Studios), Lynn Wyatt, Barbara Walters, Liz Smith, Cynthia McFadden and Nathan Lane. In additional to songs from her father’s films, Liza closed with a tribute to him written for this show “If it Weren’t for You, There Wouldn’t be Me.” She got her usual number of laughs as she deftly wove in comments to “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” (from “Gigi”), such as “I’m glad I’m not young anymore when I see a seven-foot drag queen dressed like me!” She laughingly said, “I’m making this comeback in the last two weeks of the millennium in the Palace theater,” where her mother played twice. The movie clips included scenes from “Gigi,” “An American in Paris,” “Madame Bovary,” “Meet Me in St. Louis” (duetting “The Trolly Song” with her mother), “Brigadoon,” “The Bad and the Beautiful” — priceless!

ALSO IN NEW YORK: I caught “Kiss Me Kate,” a smash hit and deservedly, on all counts. I visited with costar Brian Stokes Mitchell in his dressing room after the extremely strenuous performance and he was fresh as a daisy. He noted everyone in the company has such a great time with this show, there is never a strained moment — despite its physicality as well as musicality. I had last talked with Stokes, as he is called, after the curtain of “Ragtime” at the Shubert in L.A. He is even better in this classic revival. He credits everyone from producers Roger Berlind and Roger Horchow, director Michael Blakemore, his gloriously beautiful (and whatta voice!) costar Marin Mazzie. And of course the music of the one and only Cole Porter, and the gently modernized (by John Guare) book of Sam and Bella Spewack. Stokes said he will be one of four B’way stars to perform in the CBS millennium show from the D.C. mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial … And we’re heading West and will be back in Hollywood Monday.

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