LIZA—if you name it, she’s accomplished it, and undoubtedly excelled at it. Her show business pedigree requires no enumeration, really, as her nearly five decades of accomplishments have been so very well-documented—and besides, who on Earth has the time to recall such a lengthy syllabus?
In short, Liza Minnelli is part of a select group of individuals whose accolades and distinctions not only span the gamut but have widened it as well. Bestowed with honors left and right—an Academy Award, a BAFTA, two Golden Globes, an Emmy, a Grammy Living Legend Award, four Tony Awards and copious nominations, to scratch the surface—it appears the only thing she has not attempted is the art of relaxation.
To this day—63 years after her first on-screen appearance, 47 years since her first Tony Award and 12 years in the wake of a potentially career-haulting bout of encephalitis—we’re still unable to count Liza down for the count. This month, the iconic performer returns to Southern California, performing with a full band and MenAlive, the Orange County Gay Men’s Chorus, in a Winter Spectacular at Segerstrom Hall that can only be described as fitting a living legend.
Liza began her career in the entertainment industry onstage, and while she has very successfully ventured into film and television—her celebrated performance in 1972’s Cabaret perhaps her most recognized accomplishment, with contributions to Arthur, Arrested Development, Sex and the City 2 and Saturday Night Live also among her résumé—it seems that Liza always returns to the artform that initially sparked her interest.
“I don’t know what keeps me coming back to the stage,” the living legend had to say over the phone while on a rehearsal break. “I just remember when I saw my first Broadway show and thought, oh man. See, I wanted to be an ice skater; then I saw Bye Bye Birdie and thought, maybe I’d rather do that. All the kids were in it and everything—it looked like such fun.”
The stage isn’t the extent of Liza’s upcoming work, however. Fans will be happy to hear that her plans to return to the small screen are definite as well. “I’m doing Arrested Development again,” she says, and while everything the 66-year-old entertainer relates to me comes across as lively and convivial, she seems particularly elated about returning to the critically acclaimed sitcom. “It’s such fun. It’s just wonderful to work with everybody again. That man [Larry David] is so wonderful.”
As someone who has garnered so many awards throughout the years, has broken so many box office records and has a litany of ‘firsts’ under her belt, I had to know whether there were any accomplishments that stood out as particularly meaningful for Liza.
“They all did. They’re so exciting at the moment,” she remarked. “Winning the Academy Award and singing next to my father were incredible. And all of the others. I remember them all very well.” One other night stands out in her mind—”I remember my first Tony Award. I didn’t have a dress, so I was wearing my agent’s dress when I won it. [Laughs]” How times have changed.
Earlier this year, Liza released the historic concert album Legends of Broadway: Liza Minnelli Live at the Winter Garden, marking the first time the entire 1974 concert had seen release. The show itself, dubbed simply Liza, was momentous, selling out an entire month’s run of concerts at the Winter Garden Theatre in 36 hours.
Asked what she remembers about that 1974 show, Liza recounted, “I remember how exciting it was, and I remember being with Fred [Ebb, one of the show’s songwriters] and Marvin [Hamlisch, the show’s musical director]—all of these wonderful people. What pops up the most is gratitude, and having worked with so many talented people, and always looking for the talent. I’m grateful. I don’t like ‘yes people’—I want to learn.
“I remember it was very exciting. It was wonderful. But yeah, I’m sure I was on top of the world, because that was a first. It was the first time I think an artist had performed in a Broadway house in a concert as a show.”
I would be remiss if I failed to mention in these pages Liza’s lengthy stint as a supporter of the world’s gay community and AIDS charities, support that Liza noted is motivated by “the people that I’ve lost, and my respect for them. And always fighting for the underdog. I just don’t think some things are fair.”
Speaking of the gay community, Liza’s upcoming performance with MenAlive is sure to be one for the history books. Asked what we can expect from the two-night holiday show, Liza remains brief and humble:—“A good show, I hope!”—as if there were any doubt. Expect a high-energy night filled with spectacular effects, dancers, glitzy costumes and over-the-top moments. Liza and her band will perform a full set of Broadway classics, pop standards and holiday tunes—many with the chorus accompanying.
Rich Cook, the founder and artistic director of MenAlive, has been working with Liza’s musical director Billy Stritch on the Winter Spectacular since June. “Liza decided what she wanted to do with the chorus, and Billy and I proceeded to work out the arrangements,” Cook tells us. “Some of her choices were classics of hers. Of course, ‘Cabaret’ is one of those. Then another she selected just for this show is ’It's the Holiday Season,’ written by Kay Thompson, her godmother. There are more of her classics we're doing together, but I can't give it all away!”
The MenAlive Winter Spectacular will be Liza’s first Orange County performance in nearly 20 years, and marks her first-ever performance with a gay men’s chorus—simply one more milestone under her belt. With all that Liza Minnelli has accomplished throughout the years—the accolades, the occasional setbacks and the industry landmarks—in many ways she has become a persona bigger than any one indvidual. Not simply a gay icon, she has become the embodiment of entertainment in any medium, a legend of dynamic proportions.
Asked whether she ever stops to contemplate the significance of all she’s accomplished, she very adamantly answers, no. “I think when you stop to think about it, you get satisfied. And if you get satisfied, I don’t think you work as hard. I’m grateful—extremely grateful. And the gratitude makes me always want to do better.”
MenAlive’s Winter Spectacular with Liza Minnelli comes to Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, Dec. 13-14, 8 p.m. For more info and to order tickets, go to SCFTA.org. Photo by Ruven Afanador.