In a crowded Radio City Music Hall elevator full of journalists and theatre press pundits on Oct. 20, the shop talk quickly turned to speculation about Liza Minnelli, the star who was about to hold a press conference upstairs to announce her upcoming Broadway engagement at the Palace Theatre. One insider joked about the lift's snug quarters, wondering aloud about Minnelli's weight.
Several minutes later, after the photographers finished and had left the room, Minnelli, looking trim and optimistic, stood alone in front of the media and sang, along with her vocal arranger Billy Stritch, an intimate and lovely rendition of "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" from Kismet. After the song, the Minnelli supporters in the press room applauded eagerly, as though their faith had been redeemed; even the most cynical of the elevator pundits cautiously joined in.
Minnelli sounded strong and genuinely enthused about the Palace project and appeared comfortable and eager to answer a variety of questions about her professional and personal life.
Minnelli on Minnelli will be an evening of "heartfelt tribute" to her late father, filmmaker Vincente Minnelli, a master of the movie musical. Minnelli told reporters that she was inspired to do the show after singing around the piano at home and realizing how much great material there was in her father's movies.
Minnelli on Minnelli will run 24 performances, Dec. 1, 1999-- Jan. 2, 2000. The show marks the singer's return to Broadway. The Palace engagement has a special meaning to fans of both Minnelli and her mother, Judy Garland, because Garland reopened the Palace in 1953 and later staged her own historic comeback there in 1967. When asked, Minnelli said she could not deny having struggled with certain problems, including alcohol abuse, but insisted that she was ready and able to work. "You come through this," Minnelli said, "and you go on -- and you keep on going." Minnelli said she had undergone throat and hip surgery, and stressed that when she didn't work it was "never because I wouldn't, only because I couldn't -- and now I can."
She said she maintains a full training and coaching schedule that begins at 7 AM each day. She has lost 40 lbs., she said.
Radio City Entertainment, LM Concerts, Scott Nederlander and Stewart F. Lane are the show's producers.
"You wouldn't believe how many people have walked through the Palace Theater and said to me, 'Oh, the ghost of Judy Garland is here!'" Lane told Playbill On-Line.
Lane said he has seen the whole show. "She gave me the whole show up in her apartment," Lane said. "I tell you, she can sell the song like nobody's business." Lane said that the multi-media show will include singing, dancing and clips from Vincente Minnelli's films, including "Meet Me in St. Louis." (It was during the filming of that picture that Vincente Minnelli and Judy Garland first met and fell in love, Liza Minnelli is quoted as saying in the book, "Directed by Vincente Minnelli.")
At one point Minnelli was asked about singing her mother's songs, especially after having avoided it for so many years.
"Well, that's true, and I hate to hear other people do them. But my father taught me something. He said, 'If you're going to do something that's been done before, come at it from a different point of view.'" As reported earlier, the show will include "That's Entertainment" and "Shine on Your Shoes," from the film "The Bandwagon," "I've Got Rhythm," from "American in Paris," "On a Clear Day" from "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever," "Meet Me in St. Louis" and "The Trolley Song" from "Meet Me in St. Louis," and many others.
Minnelli on Minnelli is directed by Fred Ebb, choreographed by John DeLuca, with musical arrangements by Marvin Hamlisch, vocal arrangements by Billy Stritch, dance arrangements by David Krane and Peter Howard, scenic design by John Arnone, costumes by Bob Mackie and lighting by Howell Binkley.
Also featured in the show will be a male ensemble comprising Jeff Broadhurst, Stephen Campanella, Billy Hartung, Sebastian LaCause, Jim Newman and Alec Timerman.
"There are so many emotional peaks in the show," Lane said, "at least six points where you're going to have a lump in your throat. She pays homage to her father and her mother and, as much as I love her singing cabaret, you have to realize she's singing a whole new set of songs."
Lane said that Minnelli does a rendition of "I've Got Rhythm," that turns it into a "very hot, sexy number."
"She looks strong," Lane added, "a lot of people are pulling for her."
Minnelli on Minnelli runs Dec. 1, 1999 - Jan. 2, 2000, Tue. - Sat. at 8 PM with Sun. matinees at 3 PM on Dec. 26 and Jan. 2. A special holiday performance has been added on Dec. 27 and there will be no show on Dec. 31. Tickets are $125-$35 and are available through Ticketmaster at (212) 307-4100 beginning Mon. Oct. 25.