By Christopher A. Pape
Have you ever had the chance to meet your idol? The one person with whom you feel intrinsically connected; who when you see their face or hear their voice, a smile is formed. I recently had that opportunity. As the daughter of two of the most beloved Hollywood royalty, she is a testament to classic beauty, but also to perseverance and hard-fought respect and admiration. She is one of only thirteen people to win an Emmy, Tony, Oscar and Grammy; she is the epitome of stage presence and a lover of good music.
Of course the woman I allude to is Liza Minnelli. The daughter of Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli she
is a mainstay of Manhattan and American music lore. To interview Ms. Minnelli, was the crowning achievement of my career. At once she was poised, refined, full of anecdotes and hilarious.
Liza’s achievements are many to enumerate. Minnelli became one of the most versatile, highly regarded and best-selling entertainers alive. From movie success in The Sterile Cuckoo and Cabaret to live performances like Liza’s at the Palace (it won her latest Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event), she is known the world over for her stunning performances, legendary acting skills and over-the-top voice.
What becomes a legend most? Liza, many would argue, is one of the last living legends. It is an attitude, a way of life; it is how she carries herself. It is obvious, when one first sees Ms. Minnelli that one is looking at someone extraordinary. I don’t think that this country can or will produce another Liza and that’s a good thing. She can’t
be replicated or replaced.
Sitting down with me, in a gorgeous silk blouse and flashing an equally striking smile, we talked on a wide range of topics, including music. “Charles Aznavour was one of my biggest inspirations and I loved working with him,” she said. We talked of songs written specifically for her. “Liza with a Z was a big success and many people know me just from that song.” I couldn’t resist asking about her mentor and friend of her mother’s, Frank Sinatra. “Oh, Uncle Frank was amazing. I really loved him and what a voice!” But, my favorite moment was when I asked her about the song Sara Lee (Liza’s signature sound blasting on my stereo is one of my best childhood memories) “Oh, you like that song? It’s great, isn’t it? It’s a Kander and Ebb classic and I sang it at Radio City Music Hall.” This being Resident Magazine, we had to ask about being a New Yorker. With typical panache, Liza responded: “I stay in my apartment… and I when I go out, it’s passion; everything comes alive.” She went onto say that she loves Central Park and being in this frantic, frenetic yet somehow peaceful city. “I live in a great section of the city and I love going out, being around the energy is
just so amazing.”
Liza is, of course, synonymous with New York. She is New York and New York is her. In fact, as a child she grew up in The Plaza Hotel. And some say that Kay Thompson’s children’s book series, Eloise at the Plaza, is based on Liza and her exploits as a young girl. But nothing is more emblematic of her New York bone fides than one of her song New York, New York. “Kander and Ebb rewrote that song five times; it has become New York City’s song and I’m so glad so many people have embraced it.”
Being part of New York means that Liza is intimately familiar with the stage. Like her mother, she is the consummate entertainer; some might argue that the stage is her
best medium. In 1965, she became the
youngest woman ever to win a Tony Award for leading actress in her performance in Flora the Red Menace; it also cemented her relationship and admiration for Kander and Ebb. “I knew from that moment that
I wanted to work with them for the rest
of my life.”
Many people, who were unfamiliar with Minnelli during her early years as a stage actress, soon fell in love with her as Sally Bowles in the film version of Cabaret. As in many of her most successful collaborations, the musical had been from Kander and Ebb. It garnered Liza an Oscar and Golden Globe; and made her the only Academy Award-winning child of Oscar-winning parents.
But those are all things that happened in the past. What’s happening with her now? When asked, Liza smiles and gets excited. “I’m so busy. I love touring. I’ll be all over the country and the world. I’m going to Argentina, Chile and Brazil in September.” She will also be in Niagara Falls and Eastern PA in the next few months. All this proves is that she is in high demand; I don’t think she would have it any other way.
We then moved onto a subject that I like to ask all of my features, charitable giving. Let it be said, that no one can ever say that Ms. Minnelli isn’t passionate. When I asked her about what charities she is involved with, she suddenly turned serious and looked at me with the most compassionate face I think I’ve ever seen. “Christopher, I care so much about HIV/AIDS treatments and finding a cure. I’ve also lost so many to that terrible disease.”
Mention should be made that MasterworksBroadway has released Liza Minnelli’s historic concert album, Legends Of Broadway: LizaMinnelli Live At The Winter Garden. This long-awaited recording is derived from the original master engineered by Phil Ramone. The concert recording includes performances from Minnelli’s legendary Broadway show in January 1974 as well as three recently discovered live bonus tracks that were recorded but not included on the original LP, including Stevie Wonder’s “You and I” and standards “It Had to Be You” and “My Shining Hour.”