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Review: Liza Minnelli at the Hollywood Bowl

August 30, 2009 | 12:01 pm



Liza Minnelli played the Hollywood Bowl this weekend, and the incessant gigglers in the audience were clearly nervous about which Minnelli was going to show up. Would it be the one whose latest Broadway outing, “Liza’s at the Palace,” won a Tony or the erratic Minnelli of “Minnelli on Minnelli,” the show in honor of her director father, Vincente Minnelli, in which she tried to make another one of her comebacks before she was theatrically fit?

The answer turned out to be both.

This two-night engagement, straightforwardly titled “An Evening With Liza Minnelli” and featuring pianist and musical director Billy Stritch, a sumptuous-sounding orchestra conducted by drummer Mike Berkowitz and a heat wave that had Minnelli worried she might wilt, flaunted some of the best and the worst of its inimitable star.

MinelliHer belter’s voice was unreliable on Friday night, booming one moment then reduced to a croak the next. Her acting had a bizarre, otherworldly quality, as though she were tuning into a subtext that only she could comprehend. There was a dithering aspect to her stage presence, with her signature anxious laugh cropping up when it seemed least called for. Her dancing was curtailed to a few gestures, such as pounding her fists on her hips or turning her back in dramatic flourishes. And her stamina was weakened on this hot evening to the point that she resorted to her chair after just a handful of songs.

In short, the only thing that remained intact was her singular genius for being "Liza." And that was more than enough to galvanize the vast majority of the Bowl's audience, who cheered her on in the knowledge that this diva’s act is a two-way street — the more audible the adulation, the more likely she’ll rise to some semblance of her former greatness.
In that regard, you can say that Minnelli takes the encore principle to a new level, insisting the crowd enthuse not just for its nightcap but also for its main course and dessert. Yet there’s nothing overbearing about Minnelli's persona. In fact, she wears her aching vulnerability on her sequined sleeve, turning the audience into her collective caretaker, if not her enabler. “Most of my family has joined the choir,” she awkwardly quipped when a person shouted out some affection during a rocky patch in the first half. “So I guess you’re my family now."

Her devoted following erupted in glee. But the love fest couldn’t undo the shock of Minnelli's careening unsteadiness during her first two numbers, “Teach Me Tonight” and “I Would Never Leave You.” It brought to  mind Peggy Lee at the end of her career, being carried out on a kind of throne and flubbing lyrics, and Rosemary Clooney, gasping for oxygen midsong in her later years. Both of those legends somehow found ways to resurrect the old magic when I caught them at the twilight of their talents. Would Minnelli similarly be able to redeem herself?

She seemed to exhaust her cardio endurance with a fun if incoherently antic version of “If You Hadn’t but You Did” and a lively though ultimately cryptic interpretation of “What Makes a Man a Man.” There was some breathless patter about her bum romantic luck that invoked ex-husband David Gest and ignited some awkward tittering in the audience. But when she settled into her chair for “Maybe This Time,” she connected her own fragile journey through stardom to the wish for love in a way that lifted the number’s poignancy out of the music like a fireworks display.

In the second act, she brought some effervescent jazz to “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “My Mammy.” “Liza With a Z” may have been just a pale copy of the cute novelty number it once was, but her handling of “Cabaret,” scratchier than in her Oscar-winning turn, would probably have jibed better with Christopher Isherwood’s original conception of Sally Bowles. And this performer could talk "New York, New York" and tempt you to hop a plane.

Vocally, Minnelli could never hold a candle to her mother, Judy Garland, a truth reconfirmed by her nonetheless rousing “Palace Medley.” But triple-threat icons who have been at it for more than half a century no longer have to prove their worthiness night after night. Basking in her presence is all that’s needed to beckon the ghosts of a more glamorous theatrical past. 

Which brings to mind an indisputable truth: If Minnelli didn’t exist, show queens would have to invent her. Long may her razzle-dazzle, fabulous even when faded, live on.

-- Charles McNulty


Photos: Liza Minnelli at the Hollywood Bowl. Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times


Comments () | Archives (57)

Thank God for the Director's Chair. It gave Liza new life and the audience a chance to sit back and enjoy a taste of what remains of a still great entertainer. Thanks to Billy Stritch and Liza's lower register, the night turned out to be quite an evening..and a trifecta for those Bowl lovers(like us) who heard Domingo and Yo Yo Ma Tuesday night and came back for Liza Friday.Quite a week.

What an uncharitable account you have given. You could have had the courtesy to make allowances for such a beloved lady who has been in our collective hearts for decades. The audience around me had nothing but love and admiration for her. There was no snickering or wondering. Only enjoyment and well wishes for the lovely and gracious Liza Minelli.

I saw Liza Minneli perform a few years ago in Toronto and left the concert with an uneasy feeling. I wasn't sure she was going to make it through to the finish that evening. Yes, she had the star quality but her voice was so strained and uneven it was distracting. She was out of breath from the beginning of the first set to the end. Very sad. This review and my experience makes me question why a celebrity's inner circle of friends and enablers just can't level with the performer. I guess if a buck can be made thats all that matters. I think I have more respect for those who realise when their day in the sun has come to an end and bow out gracefully. Perhaps Liza should focus more on her comedic acting ability. She was sensational in her guest appearances on Arrested Development.

Well, what a mean spirited and unfair review. Both insulting the artist and the audience. It was a glorious two nights for everyone there. Not just us "show queens". Perhaps the reviewer would be better served sitting at home listening to old Peggy Lee and Judy Garland albums.. since that seems to be the mind frame he insists on being stuck on. Liza looked great and put on one heck of an entertaining show. Heat wave and all!

Enjoyed hearing the blow by blow critique of Liza Minelli at the Bowl. I wish I could have been there. I have always enjoyed Liza more than her Mom. Judy had a shaky voice, and had a nervous aura around her. Liza did not.

Liza croaked and yelped her way through most of the concert. She now has a good range of about 5 notes, the rest were out of tune or screamed. She needs to stop singing... now. She is living off what she used to be and beloved memories of the past. Had an unknown artist given this performance they would have been booed off the stage.

Liza was amazing. This reviewer is an idiot

Liza's a lengend and had she grinned and stared at us all night WE STILL WOULD HAVE LOVED HER!!

I totally disagree with anyone who thinks that Liza has lost it. She is 65 years old, has had both hips replaced and been thru the ringer, but still managed to be beautiful, engaging and funny. Her self-deprecating story telling was endearing and historial. Sure there were some croaky moments, but she is still atrue showman.

Does Charles McNulty ever like anything?

Hey, I had a great time and I am not a hard-core Liza fan. I did not dress in a sequined top and ruby sequined shoes like some of the men seated around me. I did not come to the bowl last night expecting 63 year old Liza to sing a pitch perfect and to be wowed by her dancing. I came to be entertained by a legend who's done it all. Liza was everything I hoped for. Her voice was decent. Sure, it's not the voice of yesteryear, but her comedy, self-depreciating humor, stories of the famous was all there and very enjoyable. The surprise bonus of the evening for me was her multitalented pianist and musical director Billy Stritch. His singing was smooth and sexy with a rich velvety timbre.

I agree with the reviewer. I walked out during Friday night's performance.

What a sensitive way for Mr. McNulty to say what everyone knows, but won't admit--Ms. Minnelli is more than past her prime, and should graciously exit the building.

This review is amazingly accurate. I like Liza and her movies but never seen her live. This show was truely a bizarre experience of my lifetime and I am glad I was able to be part of it.

Liza Minnelli gave a performance at The Hollywood Bowl that was rare & fine...near capacity crowd on Saturday gave numerous well-earned standing ovations and Minnelli's voice was strong and in fine form and she looked gorgeous! Say it like it is or stay home & don't bother is all I have to say to the nitwit who wrote this grossly inaccurate piece of garbage. Why is it working at The Los Angeles Times makes an employee so miserable they become hostile and cannot even enjoy a legenary entertainer? How sad...Long live Liza and thank you for a great time that was memorable and magical!!!

I was there Saturday Night and Liza gave a legendary performance. No she is not her mother..she is not 28 years old...she is Liza Minnelli, one of the great performers of all time. With all due rspect to Mr. McNulty I think he attended a different show than I did..

ha ha...you just have to laugh.....everybody takes it so all seriously as if crippled by fear....I think Liza enjoys what she does and obviously people enjoy being entertained by her......as someone who only recognized 3 songs in her set, let me say that she was entertaining....enough said!!! relax and enjoy the show!!!!

Well, the reviewer must have been in Friday night's audience.....I was there Saturday and yes, the first song....Teach Me Tonight seemed a bit strained .....but the 2nd song was better and by the 3rd song, she was absolutely flying! Being a singer, myself, I was so happy for her to find her groove, that singer's niche, with breath to spare, right on the money. What a show..I thought she sang her a. off. Joy, passion, great music-she delivered..thank you, Liza, your mum would be proud.

Liza sang Cabaret at the end of the first act, Mr., not during the second. And the audience didn't giggle: it appreciated her sense of humor a.k.a. sarcasm (take a look at its definition in the dictionary). I only knew two songs, I've never followed her career that much. But she put on a hell of a show. Next time, bring a bottle of wine and relax.

God McNulty, get a life....Your review was so mean spirited...your job is assess the performance not try to destroy a performer. But then most of all don't pay any attentions to hacks like U. Oh, we read the reviews just to see how distasteful a writer can and guess what, you received the award. Friday night was wonderful....like her or not she is indeed a great performer and tossing in jabs about Peggy Lee, age, health problems. are beneath decent critics...wait, you have to be a decent critic to be one. Oh that's it! What a jerk!

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