DIVA TALK: Chatting with Liza Minnelli Plus News of Bean, Callaway and Murphy

News   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Liza Minnelli Plus News of Bean, Callaway and Murphy News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Liza Minnelli
Liza Minnelli Photo by Rick Day

LIZA MINNELLI
How many times in one's life does the day begin with a call from Liza Minnelli? Even if the interview was only ten minutes long, it would be hard to complain about speaking to the effervescent, good-natured Minnelli, who was calling during a rehearsal break in Milan. In fact, Minnelli seemed genuinely excited about her upcoming return to Broadway in Liza's at the Palace . . .!, which will begin an already-extended engagement at the famed Palace Theatre Dec. 3. The limited run, which is currently scheduled to play through Dec. 28, is an early holiday present for diva fans, who have been eagerly awaiting the Main Stem return of the Tony, Grammy, Oscar and Emmy Award-winning singer-actor-dancer. Minnelli, a three-time Tony winner (for Flora, The Red Menace; The Act; and a 1974 Special Award), was last on Broadway in 1999 in Minnelli on Minnelli, a tribute to her late father, film director Vincente Minnelli. This time around, the powerhouse performer will honor her late godmother, Kay Thompson, the vocal arranger who coached Minnelli's late mother, the legendary Judy Garland. Minnelli spoke with great enthusiasm about Thompson and her new show and her return to Broadway; that brief interview follows.

Liza Minnelli: Good morning, Andrew. How are you?

Question: I'm good. How are you doing?
Minnelli: Fine, honey!

Question: Congratulations on your show being extended.
Minnelli: I know. Isn't that something? I'm thrilled.

Question: How do you feel about coming back to Broadway for the holidays?
Minnelli: I'm excited, as you can [imagine]. I just can't stand it — it's wonderful! Dream come true. Question: Have you started rehearsals yet?
Minnelli: Oh, yeah. I've been working on this show that I'm doing now, that we've been booked at the Palace, for almost two years.

Question: I know part of the show is about Kay Thompson. For people who don't know her, tell me about her and your relationship to her.
Minnelli: Selfishly, she was my godmother, but as far as anything else goes, she was an underground force in show business. She was an enormous radio star. And then she was, in short, the entire music department — the vocals and all of the vocal arrangements and every song you ever heard sung — at M-G-M, in the '40s. That's how she met my parents. Then she did a nightclub act that . . . Walter Winchell called the greatest nightclub act he had ever seen. It was her and four guys, the Williams Brothers, one of which was Andy Williams, and that's what we're doing. We're doing parts of her nightclub act and, in between, I talk about the things that she taught me and gave me and how she influenced my life. Then, after that, she wrote "Eloise at the Plaza." [Laughs.]

Question: Not a bad career.
Minnelli: And then she starred in "Funny Face." Did you see "Funny Face?"

Question: I haven't seen "Funny Face."
Minnelli: Well, rent it! The woman who is the head of the magazine, Maggie, that's Kay Thompson.

Liza Minnelli with (clockwise from left) Jim Caruso, Johnny Rodgers, Tiger Martina and Cortes Alexander
photo by Bill Westmoreland

Question: How did this show come about? How did you decide to honor her?
Minnelli: It started out [because] I wanted to do some of her vocal arrangements, because they were so unusual and so influential to vocal singing. From the minute she hit M-G-M and started to do her stuff, vocals changed. Nelson Riddle and all of these wonderful arrangers always said that Kay Thompson influenced them more than anyone. . . . And then I thought, "Well, maybe we should record it, or maybe I should put it in my show...I don't know what to do." So I got the guys together, and then I thought, "I want to perform this." I called Ron Lewis, who has won me every Tony in the world and done all this stuff and is my favorite choreographer and director in life — he is extraordinary. I said, "Listen, I want to do this show about Kay Thompson," and he proceeded to tell me how she had influenced him, too. He had met her at my apartment later on in her life. She lived with me until she died. She invented the word "pizzazz." Question: I thought you invented that word!
Minnelli: No way! That was her! [Laughs.]

Question: You've played the Palace Theatre before. What does it mean to you to play that particular theatre?
Minnelli: It's wonderful. In the old days, on the vaudeville circuit, when you played the Palace, you'd really made it! [Laughs.] And I guess it's still the same.

Question: You've been performing some of this material around the world already.
Minnelli: Yes, we've been trying different things out. It's complicated, so it's taken us a long time to achieve what we set out to do. It's finally in the kind of shape that I think I can present it to the theatre world.

Question: Do you have any favorites so far in the songs you've been doing?
Minnelli: I'd have to let you choose because I love them all! [Laughs.] They're so much fun to sing.

Question: What are some of the songs that Thompson had done in her show?
Minnelli: "I Love a Violin" is one of them. From "Funny Face," we're doing "Clap Yo' Hands" — her arrangement of that she did with Fred Astaire. There's something that nobody's ever heard called "Hello, Hello." And another one nobody's heard called "Jubliee Time." When she did an act, they were all original songs, which is also unheard of.

Question: Billy Stritch is involved also.
Minnelli: Billy has done all of the vocal charts for us. He broke down Kay's arrangements, taught them to us, and for anybody to be able to hear that is miraculous. Billy is just great. He is my arranger and my piano player and vocal arranger. [The orchestra is] being conducted by Mike Berkowitz, the drummer.

Question: You're going to have four men joining you onstage, right?
Minnelli: Yeah, Jim Caruso, Johnny Rodgers, Cortés Alexander and Tiger Martina. They'll be the Williams Brothers, which was Andy Williams and his three brothers. I had to call Andy to get some information on how this all worked because there is no record of it anywhere. There was no way to copy choreography [because] nobody ever filmed it! But Ron has done the most extraordinary job. We never stop moving. Wait 'til you see this.

Question: You've performed all around the world, on the silver screen and on TV. Do you have a preference for being in front of a live audience?
Minnelli: Are you kidding me? New York! Broadway! It's what I always wanted, it's what I always will want, and it thrills me to pieces to be there again.

Question: Looking back on your Broadway experiences, do you have a favorite production? A favorite memory? What stands out in your mind about your Broadway career?
Minnelli: Well, I won three Tonys, but it's always been so different. It's been so interesting. The projects have been so completely different. I think that's what keeps me curious. How do you do it differently? What can you do this time? What interests you as your interests change, as you grow?

Question: How do you prepare for a show? What are some of your pre-show rituals before you go on stage?
Minnelli: Put on my own makeup, do my own hair, put my clothes on, and go out there! [Laughs.]

Promotional art for Liza's at the Palace...

Question: This is just a limited engagement, right?
Minnelli: Well, it was two weeks. They've extended it to four. I don't know what they're gonna extend it to. Question: Will you take it to other cities after this?
Minnelli: We're in Italy right now. I'm calling you from Milan. Talk about out of town. . .

Question: Are you performing there now?
Minnelli: Yes, I am. Question: Is it the Broadway show that you're doing?
Minnelli: Not exactly. It's not exactly the show. Parts of the show won't be ready until the night I open on Broadway. . . . Listen, I gotta get back to rehearsal or they're gonna kill me!

Question: Okay, one last question. When people hear the name "Liza Minnelli," what would you like them to think?
Minnelli: Oh, I don't know, that's not my answer! That's gotta be yours! [Laughs.]

Question: Thanks for taking the time to talk.
Minnelli: Thank you, honey.

[The Palace Theatre is located at Broadway and 47th Street. Tickets, priced $25-$125, are available by calling (212) 307-4100 or (800) 755-4000. For more information visit www.lizasatthepalace.com.]

DIVA TIDBITS
Casting has been announced for the Center Theatre Group and Deaf West Theatre's upcoming production of Stephen Schwartz's Pippin, which will kick off the Mark Taper Forum's 2009 season. Directed and choreographed by Jeff Calhoun, the production will play the CTG/Mark Taper Forum Jan. 15-March 15, 2009. The production will boast both deaf and hearing actors, who will sign and sing. Michael Arden (Big River, The Times They Are A-Changin'), a hearing actor, and Tyrone Giordano (Big River), a deaf actor, will both play the title role at each performance. They will be joined onstage by Ty Taylor as The Leading Player, Troy Kotsur as Charles, Sara Gettelfinger as Fastrada, Tony winner Harriet Harris as Berthe, Melissa van der Schyff as Catherine, James Royce Edwards as Lewis and Dan Callaway as the Voice of Charles. Nicolas Conway and José F. Lopez Jr. will rotate in the role of Theo. The ensemble will comprise Jonah Blechman, Rodrick Covington, TL Forsberg, Rebecca Ann Johnson, John McGinty, Anthony Natale, Aleks Pevec, Victoria Platt, Nikki Tomlinson and Alexandria Wailes. Tickets, which begin at $20, are available by calling (213) 628-2772 or by visiting www.CenterTheatreGroup.org. For the deaf community, call TDD (213) 680-4017 for tickets and information.

To help celebrate Scott Alan's new recording, "Keys: The Music of Scott Alan," which is now available on iTunes and CDBaby.com, a host of theatre favorites will join the composer-lyricist for a performance and CD signing Dec. 1 at the Lincoln Triangle Barnes & Noble (1972 Broadway at 66th Street). Currently scheduled for the 7:30 PM event are Shoshana Bean, Lisa Brescia, Tituss Burgess, Danny Calvert, Jackie Hoffman, Marcus Paul James, Carly Jibson, Julia Murney, Katie Thompson and Natalie Weiss. On Jan. 12, 2009, Alan will perform songs from his latest CD at the famed jazz club Birdland. Guest artists for the 7 PM concert will be announced at a later date. For reservations call (212) 581-3080.

The list of stars who will be part of Rosie O'Donnell's upcoming television variety show, "Rosie Live," continues to grow. Currently announced for the NBC variety special, which will air Nov. 26 at 8 PM ET live from New York's Little Shubert Theatre, are Alec Baldwin, Liza Minnelli, Ne-Yo, Alanis Morissette, Kathy Griffin and Jane Krakowski.

Shoshana Bean
photo by Tye Jakobs

Shoshana Bean, one of Broadway's acclaimed Elphabas in the hit musical Wicked, will go it solo at the Stonewall Inn Nov. 26. The free 10 PM concert will celebrate the release of Bean's new solo recording, "Superhero." Scott Nevins will host the evening, which will also feature contestants from "Stonewall Sensation," the Wednesday-night talent competition at Stonewall. Stonewall Inn is located in Manhattan at 53 Christopher Street. There is no cover charge or minimum for the concert. Three-time Laurence Olivier Award winner Maria Friedman will sing the work of British composers and lyricists at London's Shaw Theatre in February 2009. Maria Friedman Celebrates the Great British Songbook is the title of the Feb. 5-7 evenings; show time each night is 8 PM. Concertgoers can expect to enjoy the work of songwriters Noel Coward, Lionel Bart, Anthony Newley, Leslie Bricusse, John Barry, Don Black, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice and Kate Bush. Neil Marcus devised the show, which features direction by Bill Deamer and musical direction by Jason Carr. The Shaw Theatre is located at 100-110 Euston Road in London. For tickets call 0871 594 3123 or visit www.theshawtheatre.com.

Tony-nominated singer-actress Ann Hampton Callaway will release her latest solo recording, "At Last," Feb. 3, 2009, on the Telarc Jazz label. The new recording, according to press notes, "is a mix of jazz standards, versatile pop songs and a couple original tunes, each woven together to create a narrative that is perhaps as cinematic as it is musical." In a statement Callaway said, "I always think of CDs like movies. You wouldn't download one scene from a movie. You want the whole thing, the whole story. An album shouldn't be just a bunch of songs in a sequence that's front-loaded with hits. It's really about creating an emotional journey that starts in one place and ends in a place that's very different." The complete track listing for "At Last" follows: "What Is This Thing Called Love?" - Cole Porter; "Comes Love" - Lew Brown, Sammy Sept, Charles Tobias; "Carey" - Joni Mitchell; "At Last" - Mack Gordon, Harry Warren; "Spain" - Arte Maren, Al Jarreau, Joaquin Rodrigo, Chick Corea; "Lazy Afternoon" - Jerome Moross, John Latouche; "Landslide" - Stevie Nicks; "Save a Place for Me" - Ann Hampton Callaway; "Over the Rainbow - Yip Harburg, Harold Arlen; "Finding Beauty" - Ann Hampton Callaway; and "On My Way to You" - Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Michel Legrand. Two two-time Tony Award winners, Christine Ebersole and Donna Murphy, will join forces to host the Drama League's annual all-star gala, A Musical Celebration of Broadway. The Feb. 2, 2009, benefit will be held at New York's famed Rainbow Room and will honor producers Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley as well as the 25th anniversary of The Drama League Directors Project. The evening will feature performances that highlight the careers of Lane and Comley, as well as past Broadway productions helmed by alumni of The Drama League Directors Project. Johanna McKeon and Roger Danforth will direct A Musical Celebration of Broadway, which will feature choreography by Tony winner Cady Huffman and musical direction by David Krane. Stephen Cole will pen the salute. Tickets, priced $900-$2,500, are available by calling Roger Calderon at (212) 244-9494, ext. 5. For more information visit www.dramaleague.org.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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