Sunday, April 30, 2006

"Liza With A 'Z'"

Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

My Inner Gay Male went into paroxysms of excitement when I heard that the 1972 concert, "Liza With A 'Z'" had been restored and released on Showtime last month. I knew I'd want to see all the DVD extras, so I ordered it from Netflix and watched it last night.

Good God Awmighty, Liza was a force of nature. She is without question one of the greatest entertainers of the last many decades (I'm not going to say "of the century" because, you know, I bet Sophie Tucker and Bessie Smith and Fanny Brice and Al Jolsen were thrilling, too), and she is at the top of her game in this special.

Let me just rave a bit more specifically about what makes Miss Minnelli so absolutely magnificent.
First, she combines astonishing raw talent with murderously hard work. Bob Fosse directs and choreographs her, and she just plain KILLS on the dance numbers. Fosse, of course, is notorious for the sexy, knock-kneed, tushie-out contortions he puts his dancers through, and Liza executes every number not only with panache but with an attention to character and meaning that renders every one of them a tiny epic of comedy or drama.

That's the thing about Liza, and young singers, you need to learn this: she's an ACTOR FIRST.
Whether she's singing or dancing -- and sweet Jesus, her stamina is simply outrageous -- she goes from full-out dance numbers to full-out vocals with barely a break -- Liza pours forth her entire life force into each number as if her life depends on it. Unlike a Britney or a Christina or a Celine, she isn't just putting out a come-hither-buy-my-ticket parody of emotional involvement (a crime for which Ms Dion, Queen of Egregious Overemoting, should be publicly whacked in the head with a CD single of "My Heart Will Go On"), she is genuinely involved. She's got her guts in it, and she gets you in the guts.

Sure, her voice is crazy and she's histrionic and she's wearing ridiculously long false eyelashes but she's beautiful, she's raw, she's young, she has a real face and a real body and real uncapped crooked teeth and the best haircut that you've ever seen in your life and fabulous Halston costumes.

Her DVD commentary track is a master class in itself, and charming.

I happen to think that Judy Garland was the best singer that popular music has ever known. I don't love her repertoire that much, and I only have a few of her recordings, but that's because listening to Judy isn't so much listening as witnessing. When Judy sang, she got naked in her soul and she put it out there vocally for you to have. It's painful to hear sometimes. Her daughter did the same thing; she has the same talent for ripping your heart out. She lives for the audience. It's as simple as that. The love is absolutely and completely real.

(Note to performers: check out how she walks right up to the footlights to take her bows. I SO love that! I am SO going to steal that! Is that not fabulous?)

I think you should see "Liza With a 'Z'." See it for the amazing Fosse choreography (He himself considered "Bye, Bye Blackbird" one of his very best numbers ever). See it for the funny 1970's people in the audience. See it for the electrifying, star-making performance by a bona fide show business legend -- the riveting, adorable, achingly honest and shockingly talented 26-year old Miss Liza Minnelli.

Liza, I love you. You are a glorious lady.


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