By Jennifer Viegas
Applause and admiration for Liza Minnelli, who was stunning at a recent, intimate Davies Symphony Hall performance. She has raised millions of dollars for AIDS research and prevention, and included the Charles Aznavour song “Comme ils disent” (poetic words about sexuality and unrequited gay love) in her performance. She preceded it by sharing her support for the LGBT community.
Like her famous mother, Judy Garland, Minnelli takes audiences to the edge, diving fearlessly into performances with tremendous integrity, vulnerability and muse-driven talent. A revealing moment came about halfway through the show, when the basic mike she was holding conked out. Her long-time music director and accompanist, Billy Stritch, came to the rescue and quickly fixed the mike. How refreshing it is that she does not rely on fake-microphone adjusted sounds. Liza lets you see her very soul in performances, and if you are receptive, the impact is exhilarating.
The concert included numerous favorites, such as “New, York, New York,” “Cabaret,” “Maybe This Time,” “The World Goes Round,” “Love Is Here to Stay,” and the delightful “Ring Them Bells.” All were backed by Stritch on piano and a 6-piece seamless ensemble that included horns, reeds, two percussionists and a bass player. Most of the musicians have been with Liza for years.
Stritch—brilliant, as always—sang with Liza on “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” Another melancholy Aznavour song, “You’ve Let Yourself Go” (about a marriage on the rocks), had the audience riveted to her every word.
Liza is one of the world’s great storytellers, selecting rich, often poetic, material. She made her name with brassy showstoppers, but pieces like those of Aznavour are a better match now for her focused, emotion-filled delivery that relies more upon vocals than dancing. She looked beautiful on stage, even in quiet moments while just watching Stritch play. She has evolved her own, distinctive style that radiates her character, elegance, sharp wit and intelligence.
Liza has always been a true artist, daring audiences to join her for the ride. She came out of the great American theatrical tradition instilled in her by her father, stage and film director Vincente Minnelli. Outside of the theater, as for opera, the art form might seem overwhelming, but in a performance hall, it can be transformative.
Like an abstract expressionist painter, Liza even reminds you of the “in the moment” realism and power. For example, she stopped the show a couple of times when she was unsatisfied with her performance. She did the sections again, until she hit the notes to her satisfaction.
She received several standing ovations throughout the concert. For her encore, she performed Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” It seemed fitting that she chose a song written by a gay man. Many in the LGBT community—and particularly gay men—have long appreciated how Liza has forged her own unique path, which takes guts in this often sexist, stereotype-driven world. It is all the more astounding, considering the inherent pressures brought on by her family, which was forever in the spotlight.
Long live Liza! Our love for you is here to stay. Please come back to San Francisco soon.
Jennifer Viegas is the co-publisher of the “San Francisco Bay Times.”