“AND SO, with deep humility, I stand in front of you/I’m proud to play the Palace, it’s like a dream come true!”
On Sunday afternoon, Liza Minnelli sang her mother’s famous “Palace medley” for the final time, closing her three-week run at the fabled Broadway theater where Judy herself triumphed in 1951, ’56 and ’67.
“Liza’s at the Palace” show was conceived, in part, as a tribute to her late godmother, entertainer and author Kay Thompson. And the second act is devoted to Liza’s brilliant take on Kay’s unerring way with song and dance. But for many, the show’s sentimental highpoints were Liza’s open acknowledgment of her mother’s influence, Judy’s importance to the legacy of the Palace, and Liza’s total ease at singing not one, but two of her mother’s great numbers — she closes the show with a you’re-made-of-stone-if-you-don’t-cry rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
The atmosphere for Liza’s last concert — which included Barbara Cook and Martin Short in attendance — was hysterical from the moment the lights went down and the overture began, to the very end, with Liza standing in a campy, arms up, head thrown back pose. And while Liza’s audiences are famously forgiving — as they were with Judy — there has been little cause to qualify Liza’s performance during this run. And none whatsoever on that Sunday afternoon.
Her voice seemed, if anything, stronger, more controlled. She hit high notes that wobbled a bit on opening night, the deep low notes were more dramatic than ever. She moved like a woman who has never heard the words “hip replacement.” Liza belted or caressed all her standards as if composing them on the spot. When she got to “And the World Goes ‘Round” it was velvet! (Liza keeps her usually active hands in the pockets of her embroidered jacket for most of this song, rendering it even more effective.) Her Kay Thompson numbers were extra exuberant, and the support she receives from Billy Stritch, and her four singing/dancing fellows is incalculable.
The give and take between artist and audience is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I don’t believe anybody, no matter how unmoved they have been by Liza Minnelli in the past, could have attended this Palace run without finally being lifted off his seat, applauding, brava-ing, inexplicably misting up. Miss Minnelli wrenches the emotion from herself and in doing so, transforms her audiences. One cannot remain uninvolved when this genius is on stage.
On opening night, I worried that Liza might not do it for me again. I’d seen her in every mood and move. All her familiar mannerisms, all the bits of business that seem so spontaneous but are carefully rehearsed. Happy as I was that she’d made it back, once again, I didn’t expect the old rush of emotion. Wrong! Liza is a theatrical tsunami, an unstoppable force of nature. I believe she will go on forever. She has to. When she tells her audience, “It’s all for you,” she ain’t kidding.
Let’s hope the Tony committee remembers Liza when they compile the nominees for Special Theatrical event. Sure, Liza already has three Tonys. But round numbers are neater.
CHER, the one and only tells us that she is lobbying the U.S. Postal Service to commemorate her late ex, Sonny Bono, with his own stamp. Cher says she would join forces with Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack, who was married to Sonny at the time of his death, to make this honor a reality. And the U.S. Postal service is keen to the idea. One high-up said “A Sonny Bono stamp would be a lot of fun, especially if Cher would attend the dedication for it.” Though Cher and Sonny divorced rather bitterly, and Cher was snarky from time to time about her overly controlling ex, she never denied that it was Sonny who was the architect of their careers–as pop stars and later, as TV icons. He had to push her on stage, he had to assure her that she had fabulous sound, he gladly played straight man to her wisecracking put-downs. He made the decisions and for the most part — at least professionally — he was on target.
Eventually, Cher had to fly free and find herself as a solo performer and as a woman dealing with life all on her own. She succeeded perhaps beyond her wildest dreams — an Oscar for her performance in “Moonstruck” — but she never dismissed Sonny’s importance.
As she said, heartbreakingly, in her eulogy at Sonny’s funeral: “When I was a little girl, I always used to read the Reader’s Digest ‘Most Unforgettable Person” stories. And no matter how long I live, or who I know, Sonny will always be that person to me.”