Liza Minnelli Looks Back at Flora, The Red Menace, "Cabaret" and Her Winter Garden Album

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
11 May 2012

Liza Minnelli
Liza Minnelli

At 27-years-old Liza Minnelli sold-out a 23-performance concert engagement at the Winter Garden Theatre. The unstoppable performer has just released an album of that 1974 concert, "Liza Minnelli: Live at the Winter Garden," which arrived on disc for the first time May 8.

Playbill.com spoke with Minnelli, who discussed those concerts, her collaborations with John Kander and Fred Ebb, and getting her start in their musical Flora, the Red Menace. Visit Minnelli's page on the Playbill Vault.

Liza, the excitement that comes through on the album is palpable. The overture alone gives me chills.
Liza Minnelli: I remember how exciting the whole experience was. To be on Broadway in that beautiful theatre and to win the Tony. It was just thrilling. I always worked very closely with Fred [Ebb]. He was the main influence with my shows.

May 11 marks the 47th anniversary of the Broadway opening of Flora, The Red Menace. It's impressive when you think that it was the first collaboration between yourself and Kander and Ebb, and all of you were making your Broadway debut with that show. Can you tell me about that experience?
LM: I was doing Carnival, if you can believe it, in stock. There was a wonderful lady in the show, and we were in between shows on a Saturday, and I was running out to get something to eat, and I heard her singing. She was sitting on the edge of the stage, and the piano player was down there too.

She was singing this wonderful song, and I went over to her and said, "Marge, who wrote that?," and she said, "These two new guys; in fact they just got their first Broadway show." And I said, "I'm supposed to make my first album, could I meet them?" So, she took me to meet them. They opened the door, and Fred and I looked at each other, and that was it.



So, that literally opened the door for Flora?
LM: Well, I said, "Can I audition?," and I already had a job in another Broadway show, but I wanted to do Flora, so I had to audition seven times! The first time I auditioned George Abbott was out in the theatre. I walked down and I heard him say, "Well, this is a waste of time," but I kept walking down and then I just kept coming back. And finally, I got it!

You were just 19 at that time and the cast album is so impressive. You hit the rafters with "Sing Happy" – that's an emotional and vocal workout!
LM: I know! Their songs are always a workout. But I love them, and there's something about Fred's words. I learn them quickly because he speaks like he writes.

Click here to see a 19-year-old Minnelli performing "Sing Happy" during Flora.

Minnelli in Flora, the Red Menace.
photo by Friedman-Abeles

You also just celebrated the 40th anniversary restored screening of "Cabaret" in Los Angeles. It's such a groundbreaking film – it really pushed the envelope.
LM: Because of the way it was restored, it hit me harder than when I made it. I was so thrilled to be a part of such an iconic film. It could have been made yesterday or tomorrow. [Bob] Fosse did such a great job. They sent us off to Germany to do it. We really could kind of get away with anything we wanted to do, and Fosse told us what to do and we did it.

As much as the title song is synonymous with the film, so is "Maybe This Time." Fans might be surprised to know that the song actually predates the film. How did it find its way into "Cabaret"?
LM: It was on my first album, actually. They just wrote the song. And Fosse said, "We need a song here," and I said "What about 'Maybe This Time?'" He said, "No, it's too maudlin," and I said, "No it's not! Not if you sing it with hope."

That's really a common theme for so many Kander and Ebb songs; there's always hope underneath what the character is going through. Is that something that connects you to their work?
LM: Yes, it really is. Every story somebody's been through, or knows somebody who's been through it, or has been through it and doesn't realize they've been through it.

Lady Gaga called you out at her Madison Square Garden concert last year, saying she'd never lip synch, and especially not if Liza was in the house. You've had a big effect on her and other stars. Would you ever cover one of her songs?
LM: Oh sure. Actually, Sam Harris and I did a small show, and we did "Bad Romance" together and it was really funny.

What other artists do you like to listen to, or is there new material you might want to cover?
LM: I love the Petshop Boys and My Chemical Romance. There are also songs in Leap of Faith that I thought, "Hmm, that might be fun to sing."

Liza, before I let you go, you have so many wonderful stories from your career, any chance you might write a memoir?
LM: Not yet, honey. I'm too busy!

Click here to read Playbill.com's story on "Liza Minnelli: Live at the Winter Garden."