Liza Minnelli Joins Cast of The Life -- for 1 Night

News   Liza Minnelli Joins Cast of The Life -- for 1 Night She didn't dodge the question at the Tony Awards. When she visited the press on the arms of Michael Nouri in her rather unusual Halston gown, she was asked by Playbill On-Line if she had plans to return to Broadway again soon?

Liza Minnelli (right) bucks up the spirits of Sam Harris and the rest of the The Life cast June 2.
Liza Minnelli (right) bucks up the spirits of Sam Harris and the rest of the The Life cast June 2. Photo by Photo by Diane Cohen

She didn't dodge the question at the Tony Awards. When she visited the press on the arms of Michael Nouri in her rather unual Halston gown, she was asked by Playbill On-Line if she had plans to return to Broadway again soon?

Liza's reply: "Sooner than you think!"

Can't you tell us more? "No. I'm sworn to secrecy."

At 10:45 Monday night June 2, the secret was out. Liza was back on Broadway! Not in her own show, but again as a special guest of producers Roger Berlind, Martin Richards, Sam Crothers, and Cy Coleman at the Coleman-Ira Gasman musical The Life.

Liza's been pals with the musical's composer for years and with the company since the show began previews (often dropping by at the spur of the moment for impromptu visits). She's heard singing two songs from the show on the pre- Broadway RCA concept album. However, Monday night she performed one of those songs live with Life co-star Sam Harris and, a few minutes later, broke a promise she made to her mother. One she vowed she'd never break -- and in what would be Judy Garland's 75th birthday year.

At the end of The Life, the cast received a thunderous ovation from a SRO audience -- the kind of audience, as Pamela Isaacs (who plays Queen in the musical) said later, "you'd like to bottle and let them out into the seats every night."

After three curtain calls, Harris quieted the audience and introduced composer Cy Coleman. Sadly, unbeknownst to Harris, lyricist Ira Gasman was standing against the rear left wall of the Barrymore Theatre ignored and left out -- and greatly upset.

Coleman paid a tribute to the cast and then noted that Liza was in the audience and had offered to do something special. She was lifted onto the stage -- already miked (she let the cat out of the bag at intermission when she could be heard on her mike).

Liza noted that a wonderful tradition in her family -- from great grandparents and grandparents to her parents -- had been to help and support fellow entertainers. Maybe she felt since "the big wins" (Best Musical, Best Actress, Best Score, Best Director) eluded the show, this was a time to shore up their spirts.

"I just love this company," she said. "They're a great bunch of people and I enjoy hanging out with them. Every single person in this show deserves a Tony Award!"

Lillias White, the 1997 Tony Award winner for Best Featured Performance for her portrayal of Sonja, the prostitute with a heart of gold, looked each of her cast members in the eye and pointed to each one, saying, "It's true. It's true. It's true."

"In fact," added Liza, "every kid on Broadway who goes out there and does it eight times a week deserves something!" She turned to Harris and joked, "What happened last night? (Sunday June 1) You've been very lucky. You've never lost anything in your whole life! You should have won last night. You must be in shock! How you let that Tony get away from you?"

Harris pointed to Chuck Cooper, who plays the hulking pimp, Memphis, in The Life and replied, "He took it."

"Well," said Liza, "that's okay."

Coleman stepped forward and said, "We're going to roll the piano out--"

"Are you really?" blurted Liza. "Are you going to play?"

"I'm going to play," Coleman replied.

"I hang out with the girls in their dressing room," explained Liza. "The thing I wanted to do most in my life was to play Broadway. I learned a long time ago when I did that it's like a family. This is what it's supposed to be about, helping each other out. And I'm honored to be onstage with all of you."

"I know you've got all sorts of throat things," Coleman said to Liza.

"So who knows what's going to come out!" she laughed. "I don't sing as good as Sam!"

"You've got to know the kind of generous and wonderful person she is!" said Coleman.

The composer began the introduction to "Use What You Got." Liza blurted, "Oh, my God, I'm so nervous!"

She and Harris did a gusty, animated duet his rousing Act I showstopper "Use What You Got." To say the audience went wild would be an understatement.

But the best was yet to come. Liza thanked the audience, Coleman, and the company profusely. The composer then made Liza an honorary member of the cast with her own official Life baseball cap and oversize T-shirt. Liza quieted the house.

"It's my mother's 75th birthday this year," Liza explained. "She gave me so many things and I promised her when I was 16 that if she let me go to New York and try to audition to be on Broadway I'd never sing her songs. And I've kept that promise. My friend Billy Stritch- "

Someone says Stritch's name. "Are you here, Billy?" inquired Liza.

"Yea."

"Can you come here for a minute?"

"Coming down!"

"Get up here," screams Liza. Stritch joins her onstage. "Cy and Billy told me that I'd know when it was time to break that promise. And I think the time has come!"

Stritch sits at the piano with Coleman. "Just play," says Liza "and I'll catch up. I'll wait for Mama to tell me." To Harris, "Will you hold my hat?" Harris: "I'll wear it!"

Liza turns to the company en masse onstage and then to the audience. "This is for you," she says. She begins "You Made Me Love You" a capella. Though she has a cold and some notes come out rough, it is a mesmerizing moment, especially when Liza comes to the lip of the stage and looks at the audience and sings "the mention of your name sends my heart reeling." For an instant it's as if she's going to sit on the edge of the stage -- one of Garland's favorite moments in concert -- but she doesn't. As she finishes the song, there is a sustained standing ovation until finally the curtain is rung down. Backstage, for over an hour, Liza visits and poses with the cast and producers for photos.

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