The comeback is a time machine. An alchemical instrument that, when used as directed, enables you to return to a halcyon moment of possibility with clear eyes and an unlined forehead. And there, refashioned to surmount all past failings, triumph. And not only triumph but shimmy in a glimmering Haltson mini-dress (that is now back in style), and stick it to all the naysayers by being in fine voice and showing some thigh in a two hour cabaret act with a 12 piece orchestra, and 5 costume changes.
Liza Minnelli has this magic device. And she's at the Palace this month. The sacred bloody Palace Theater, shrine of guilded Vaudeville with boards trod by Sophie Tucker and Fanny Brice, and the scene of many of her mother's comebacks. At the beginning of 2008, I said that I wanted to see Liza Minnelli live and now I've seen her twice and for free.
I love Liza irrationally. I love her vulnerability, her ebulliance. She could fill an oil tanker with her energy. I even love her even when she can't do it all.
When I saw her last summer at Coney Island last summer, with Spartacus and Spartacus' boyfriend, Ms. Minnelli, alas, was not at her best. Okay, that's putting it mildly. Frankly, she was drunk. We were white-knuckling it through her signature numbers where she paused to cough dramatically before attempting the higher notes. But we loved her nonetheless, all 3,000 or so of us. Every now and then someone in the crowd would shout: We love you, Liza! "And I love you too," she replied sinisterly, "more than you know."
But here she is now, a mere 6 months later, cream of the crop at the top of the heap. Though her voice has changed over the years, becoming deeper and more textured, she's still got the power and the phrasing. True, the band came in loud to help her over some hurdles, we cannot deny that. But Ms. Minnelli was on her feet dancing almost the whole time. It was a love fest with a standing ovation for almost every song. What I love most about Liza is that she inhabits each song and finds a character to portray. With a few simple gestures, she transformed herself into a drag queen for a rendition of Charles Aznavour's "What Makes a Man a Man?". The second set was devoted to her godmother, Kay Thompson, and her snappy cabaret act from the 50s. Some genius had the idea to give Liza two handsome guys who sing back-up and dance with her. Not only were her boys able to do the more energetic dancing, they could also prop her up when she faltered. Liza is still kicking for sure, just not so high. But then, my high kicks are pretty low to the ground these days.
I wasn't there for opening night. What I saw was actually her dress rehearsal. The audience was packed to the rafters, and full of celebrities, most of whom I didn't recognize. I really needed Spartacus there, he's the one who notices when Anna Wintour is standing next to us at MOMA (she is so skinny), or when Ethan Hawke is schlepping along 7th Avenue with his kids. But there was only one golden ticket at the last minute from someone who knows someone. I got one of those phone calls that starts with: How quickly can you get to Times Square?
On my way home, I was accosted by a frozen comedian. "Hey, Gilda Radner!" she shouted. I think she was trying to insult me, but we ended up having a lovely exchange about the original SNL star. (In my town comedians are camped out on corners everywhere cajoling people into nearby comedy clubs. Shivering in the winter and shvitzing in the summer. Just to prove that comedians are even more exploited than dancers, they don't get stage time unless they bring in a quota of paying customers, hence the anger and desperation.) Do you know what this means, goslings? My Jewfro is returning! Markedly diminished from its former Radneresque glory, yes, but returning slowly. I have little tufts along my hairline. And when the wind blows, the tufts dance.
The date here is deceptive. I am actually posting this on August 27, 2009. Where the hell have I been? Well, that's a good question...