Liza lures Russian money to her cabaret

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The Independent Online
SHE sang the song, of course, but Liza Minnelli really had no need to tell her audience in Moscow last night that money makes the world go around. They have already embraced that philosophy.

While poor Muscovites loitered outside the State Concert Hall in the hope of seeing the American star, a stream of limousines drew up, disgorging the smart, the arty and the shady. Here was an audience as sinister as any in Cabaret, as glittering as any in New York, New York. They were flashing with rhinestones - and that was only the men. One young beau in the dollars 100 ( pounds 66) seats, wearing a jewel-encrusted cummerbund and a diamond ear-ring, was accompanied by a bodyguard in an orange suit, with a broken nose.

'There's a naked woman two rows ahead of us,' hissed my husband, Costya. Unfortunately for Costya, she was just wearing a backless dress.

By comparison, Ms Minnelli, up on the stage in a little black dress, looked dowdy. But her performance was anything but dull. Her voice has lost none of its raunchy energy and her 48-year-old legs still kick.

Moscow is always abuzz with rumours that stars from the West are about to arrive. Usually they do not. We are still waiting for Madonna. But Liza Minnelli did not disappoint Russia. Ordinary mortals will see her show on television next month.

Apparently she was lured over by Tom Jones, who recently gave a concert here, and discovered that Moscow is not a bad venue for artists a little past their peak in the West. Russian audiences are among the kindest. They are as enthusiastic as the Italians if they like a performer, as polite as the British if they do not. Ms Minnelli seemed bowled over by the piles of flowers she received. 'God, you guys, I've never been treated like this before,' she said.

The tour was organised by Josif Kobzon, the head of Russia's showbiz clan, and financed by the young Russian banker, Sergei Sleptsov. Ticket holders got a coupon worth 10,000 roubles ( pounds 3.40) with which they were invited to open an account at his New Federal Bank.

Ms Minnelli's programme was packed. She visited an orphanage, a tank division and gave two concerts in Moscow before leaving on a trip to St Petersburg. Russia's unpopular politicians basked in her glow. The Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, organised a reception for her, while St Petersburg's Mayor, Anatoly Sobchak, jumped up on stage to sing the Russian folk song Kalinka with her. It was tacky even by the standards of today's Russia.

But there was an inspiring moment, too. At the end of the show, she sang about freedom. 'I promise you, we will be free, if not tomorrow, then the day after that, or the day after that.' She seemed to sing to the millions of Russians for whom a ticket to her concert would have cost a month's salary. Communism has fallen, but they wait to be truly free.

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