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Liza with a Z: Liza Minnelli to perform at Shippensburg University

October 14, 2012|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE | crystal.schelle@herald-mail.com
  • Liza Minnelli, 66, first appeared on Broadway in 1965 in Flora The Red Menace. She won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, making her the youngest person to win that prize. She'll appear Friday at the H. Ric Luhrs Center at Shippensburg University.
By Ruven Afandor

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. — "Just call me Liza."

That's how Liza Minnelli set the tone for her interview as this reporter thrust formality upon her. After insisting to be on a first-name basis, she then punctuates her point with her trademark cackle.

Sure, she's known as the Queen of Broadway, but Liza Minnelli doesn't hold court.

Arguably, she would have every right to do so. Born in 1946 to  Hollywood royalty, legendary singer-actress Judy Garland and director Vincent Minnelli ("Meet Me in St. Louis"), Liza Minnelli followed in her parents' footsteps but was able to carve out her own distinctive path.

Name the award and she has it — four Tonys, an Oscar, two Golden Globe Awards, an Emmy and a special "Legends" Grammy. She's had iconic roles in film such as "Cabaret." A TV special called "Liza with a ‘Z.'" A sold-out concert at The Winter Garden. And for years she even had a trademark look — a short cropped do, a single beauty mark and polished make-up.

Minnelli was home in New York when she had the chance to chat as she gets ready to head to Shippensburg, Pa., on Friday, to perform at the H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center at Shippesnburg University as part of her "Confessions" tour.

At age 66, Minnelli can still be found dancing, singing and acting, and, she said, it's all been a wonderful journey.



Catching the bug

Acting has just been as important for Minnelli as her singing.

"My first love is the acting and the stage, and acting of the songs, which I learned from Charles Aznavour," she said.

Aznavour is a well-known French entertainment hall entertainer and actor.

"I called him and I said, ‘Can I be your protege?' I went to see him and I couldn't believe it. Each song was a little movie. I thought, 'That's what I want to do,'" she said. "I didn't think I was a particularly good singer — I still don't. I just think that acting each song out, that I know exactly who each character is that sings it, what color hair she is, what she sees when she looks out the window, what's on her refrigerator door. All that kind of stuff, the details. It's really kind of method singing." She laughed.

Minnelli said when she was younger she started to learn lyrics as a hobby "like some collect stamps."

"I started collecting lyrics because I wasn't very good at expressing myself and the songs were so wonderful," she said. "So I learned all of (George) Gershwin and then I went through (Richard) Rodgers ... Cole Porter, and all of that kind of stuff, besides all the rock stuff I listened to."

Although she had already made her screen debut as a toddler with her mother in 1949's "In the Good Old Summertime," a teenage Minnelli had her eyes on the Great White Way. But first she had to convince her parents.

"I wanted to be on Broadway, man," she said. "I came to New York and did it. I visited here first when I was 14. That's when I met Marvin (Hamlisch). Then I came back when I was 15. I said, ‘Can I go for the summer?' They said ‘Yeah.' I said, ‘If I get a job, can I stay?' They said, ‘Oh, of course, if you get a job.' Well, I got a job."

She was 16 when she appeared in the Off-Broadway show, "Best Foot Forward" in 1963.



It's Liza with a Z

While balancing her time on her mother's TV series, "The Judy Garland Show," Minnelli continued to find Broadway roles. Her first starring role on Broadway was 1965's "Flora The Red Menace." For that role, the 19-year-old won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, making her also the youngest person to win that prize.

She would continue to make movies throughout her the 1960s. But the decade ended on a low personal note with the tragic death of her mother in 1969. 

Three years later, Minnelli would mark the performance that made her an icon — as Sally Bowles in the movie musical "Cabaret," directed by Bob Fosse. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress.

In 1972, Minnelli appeared in her famous TV special, "Liza with a Z." She was reunited wtih Fosse who produced with Fred Ebb. Her musical director and conductor for the concert was her childhood friend, Hamlisch, who passed away this year.

"He was the nicest man," Minnelli said. "He was my best friend since the time I was 14. So it was a real loss to me. It just knocked me silly."

In January 1974, Minnelli staged a live performance, this time it would simply be called "Liza." Minnelli broke box office records at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York City for her one-woman show — selling out all 24 concerts in just 36 hours. For that concert, she won a special Tony.

But those looking for the show's Columbia Records soundtrack, "Liza Minnelli At the Winter Garden" would have a hard time finding it. The album was pulled from shelves because of legal issues.

"What happened was that ‘Cabaret' came out," she said. "So they held the album and they put out the ‘Cabaret' album instead. Now, they're just re-releasing (‘Winter Garden'), which is amazing. See, it shows you, you never know."

The reissued album, which was released in the spring, includes three live bonus tracks — Stevie Wonder's "You and I" and standards "It Had to be You" and "My Shining Hour."

"Everybody who comes to my shows — and I'm lucky that they do come — have said they liked it a lot," she said.

But as she was hoofing it onstage, Minnelli was still appearing in film — 1981's "Arthur" and 1988's "Arthur 2," both starring Dudley Moore.

She won a Golden Globe for her turn as a mother with a muscular dystrophy child in the 1985 made-for-TV movie "A Time to Live."



Minnelli has continued to hop between singing and acting — onstage or onscreen, both big and small.

In 1999, she played tribute to her father with the show "Minnelli on Minnelli."

Throughout all of this, Minnelli was battling health problems — her first hip replacement surgery in 1995, throat surgery in 1997, a second hip replacement in 2000.

In 2000, just as the album of her work on "Minnelli on Minnelli" was release, Minnelli was hospitalized with encephalitis. Doctors told her she probably wouldn't be able to walk or talk, let alone dance or sing again.

However, Minnelli has always been incredibly positive about life, even in some of her bleakest days. She said she owes her parents for instilling in her that strength.

"I guess it just comes from my roots," she said. "My parents were very positive people."

 In 2002, Minnelli defied the odds and was back to work with the album, "Liza's Back!"



Age is only a number

Minnelli has never really stopped. In 2003, she made her first appearances in "Arrested Development."

"I was just in L.A. the other day doing ‘Arrested Development,'" she said.

The canceled Fox series was picked up by Netflix for a new season. Minnelli will be reprising her role as Lucille Austero, the older girlfriend of Buster Bluth (Tony Hale).

"It's great, just wonderful that they're doing it again," she said. "Such a funny show."

Minnelli has continued to look for things that might be considered a little out of the box.

In 2006, she recorded "Mama" with My Chemical Romance. She said she has it in her iPod.

"It was so silly," she said of the song. "It's wonderful when someone will call up and say 'You want to do something?' You never know what's going to happen. I like that a lot."

In 2008 she returned to Broadway with "Liza's at the Palace," which won her a Tony for Best Special Theatrical Event. A year later, she had a cameo on "Sex in the City."

And just last year, she released her latest album, "Confessions."

Those who will see her perform at Shippensburg will be treated to an intimate event, she said, with only seven musicians and herself.

"They'll be a lot of stuff from ‘Confessions,'" she said. "What I try to do is fit in what everybody likes and fit in stuff that I like. I like story songs, interesting songs."

Minnelli is getting ready to start her tour to South America, which she said is exciting.

 "I'll be gone for two weeks. I never stay out more than that," she said.

And why? "Because I'm 66! I have strong rules, I got to stay in shape. They can't run me around like they used to."



The future

 Minnelli said she will continue to keep busy. She has been working with students at The Actor's Studio in New York City, teaching master classes in acting and singing.

 "It's interesting and it's fulfilling," she said.

 Minnelli said she's enjoying being the teacher because she gets "to see them respond and see them get what I'm talking about, and see it work."

As for the legacy she hopes to leave?

"I have no idea, that's up to you," she said, punctuating it with her signature laugh.



If you go...

WHAT: An Evening with Liza Minnelli.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19

WHERE:  H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center at Shippensburg University, 1871 Old Main Drive, Shippensburg, Pa.

COST: Tickets cost $67 to $95

CONTACT: Call 717-477-7469 or go to www.luhrscenter.com.



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