Liza, Liza, skies are grey! That's how the tune Liza Minnelli was named after goes, nearly, and that's how Liza's life goes, too - they wish. To wit: Liza with a Z steps into Julie Andrews' role in Victor/Victoria on Broadway, and co-"star" Tony Roberts (Tony who? Exactly) walks like a man - and talks like a bitch - when Minnelli fluffs a line at a matinee. More exactly, she floods the line with an odd, Freudian flavour, transforming "I'm a second-rate hoofer" into "I'm a second-rate hooker."

Possibly, any actress playing opposite Tony Who? would feel like a second- rate hooker: here's a fellow thespian who crudely corrects you on stage, then announces he's off, off, off on vacation, unable to work with you, only to blow his valuable holiday time hissing and telling, blabbering to all and sundry about professionalism while displaying none.

Does anyone note the contradiction? Hardly. The story is, after all, already written: Minnelli's life as a carbon copy of Judy's with a Y. The sins of the mother: staggering on stage, loaded on Stolichnaya and Seconal, way, way over the rainbow, threatening to "Stay all night and sing 'em all". As The Times gloats, "Some have chosen to see it as a sign that Miss Minnelli, 50, will never escape the sorry shadow of Garland ... never an easy co-performer, Garland died in 1969, after an overdose of sleeping pills." And trust the Daily Mail to nudge-nudge the punters: "In the past, Miss Minnelli has struggled with addictions." And beaten them - though she probably regrets ever coming clean about getting clean, and muses on the redundancy of supposedly having a death wish when so many other people are happy to have it for her.

What the papers don't mention, of course, is that these days insurance companies oblige even the biggest name to take medical tests before strutting and fretting. If Minnelli were doing lines instead of fluffing them, the evidence would doubtless be there. But facts - dull things - don't fit the set scenario. Who wants to know that Minnelli has a mild, and mildly amusing, history of fluffing, from her debut appearance in Flora the Red Menace, onwards to The Rink and Chicago? Or that her naked nervousness is likely the root cause, or that she is forgiven this occasional tic by colleagues who have always borne warm witness not only to her sometimes disturbing energy, but also to her adherence to the highest standards of the business they call show.

Hence her opening night ovation (now deliberately forgotten). As far as one can tell, Minnelli has never pushed a film over budget, or caused a production to collapse; indeed, her career might be said to be less a sad repeat of, and more a sound reaction to, her mother's. But that's about as newsworthy as the lady's true tragedy: being a protean musical movie talent in an era when movie musicals are out of fashion, hence having to stoop low and take over from a one-time Singing Nun.

John Lyttle

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