Liza Minnelli, Coliseum, London: Queen of cabaret wows adoring fans
Monday 26 May 2008
It might all be in the genes, but second-generation stars often struggle to live up to expectations and match their parents' success. Not so Liza Minnelli. A celebrity for all of her 62 years, the daughter of The Wizard Of Oz star Judy Garland and the director Vincente Minnelli has done a better job than most, even if she owes more of her current notoriety to the antics of fourth husband David Gest than the fact that, in 1989, she made the best Hi-NRG record of all time.
The infuriatingly catchy "Losing My Mind", a Stephen Sondheim composition written for the musical Follies and whipped up to frenetic tempo by the Pet Shop Boys, ticked so many camp boxes that it could have made its way from the gay nightclub Heaven to the Coliseum, the home of the English National Opera, where Liza "with a Zee" is appearing for three nights only at the start of a short British tour.
Her biggest UK hit does not feature in the programme, but she does little else wrong in a two-hour, two-part extravaganza which belies the fact that her obituary is on file at most newspapers. Minnelli's unique relationship with London – she joined her mother on stage at the Palladium in 1964 – means she is singing and dancing to the converted.
They love her and they let her know it as soon as the curtain lifts and she strikes that pose straight out of a Broadway poster at the back of the stage. Wearing black trousers, a shimmery black top and silver headband, she nearly looks like her 1970s self, about to step out to Studio 54 but her 12-piece orchestra is a touch too loud as if trying to keep up with her larger-than-life persona.
By "The Man I Love", the sound balance has improved and she has settled into her "life as an open songbook" persona. Part monologue, part confession, her asides and ad-libs are witty and tick all the expected reference points – ex-husbands, weight loss, drink and drugs. She might appear as though she is letting us into her confidence but she is revealing only as much as she wants, mostly in the service of the song and performance.
She namechecks her mentors – the songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb, and the director and choreographer Bob Fosse – recalling how she joined the cast of Chicago as a last-minute replacement. Her transformation into Roxie Hart half-way through the anecdote and plot exposition is mesmerising. She delivers "My Own Best Friend" with feeling and gusto, her voice filling the Coliseum to the rafters. Big finishes are her trademark but "Maybe This Time" is all the better for being performed more sedately, as she sits on a high chair after catching her breath. "(Life Is A) Cabaret" closes the first half and brings the audience to its feet.
The second half of the show, entitled "The Godmother And The Goddaughter", is a tribute to Kay Thompson, a vocal arranger who coached Garland, Lena Horne and Frank Sinatra but left the employ of MGM studios in the late 1940s and developed a flamboyant nightclub act with Andy Williams and his brothers. When Minnelli, sitting on her mother's lap as a toddler, saw her real-life godmother on stage, she was transfixed. Thompson and her god-daughter remained close and Minnelli is now paying tribute to her on the tenth anniversary of her death.
Her recreation of Thompson's club act has real zing and the breathtaking choreography and harmonies make up for the paucity of hits. You could be back at the Copacabana 50 years ago, but Minnelli has always given her devoted fans what they want and encores with her signature song, "New York, New York". "I am home," she quipped earlier. She wasn't kidding.
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