Exclusive InDepth InterView: Liza Minnelli Talks LIVE AT THE WINTER GARDEN, CABARET HD, Lady Gaga & More
Four letters say it all: LIZA. Descended from Hollywood royalty - the only Academy Award winner with both parents recipients of the prize, as well; Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli - Liza Minnelli made her mark on show business first with her stupendous debut in 1965's FLORA THE RED MENACE by a new songwriting team comprised of composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, and the rest is showbiz history. The fruitful musical marriage of the three over the next four decades would result in some of the finest achievements in all of entertainment, many featuring Ms. Minnelli, the peerless entertainer of a generation, as the central interpreter. FLORA THE RED MENACE to CABARET, CHICAGO, NEW YORK, NEW YORK, THE ACT, THE RINK and beyond, the partnership between Liza Minnelli and Kander & Ebb has yielded some of the most spectacular and unforgettable songs ever written or performed and 2012 is a special year indeed to celebrate their many fine achievements. In addition to the long-awaited Blu-ray premiere of the iconic Bob Fosse film musical for which Liza won a Best Actress Oscar, CABARET - premiering in the HD format later this year to mark its fortieth anniversary - this week sees the hotly anticipated CD and digital premiere of one of her finest live recordings ever captured - Liza Minnelli: LIVE AT THE WINTER GARDEN - completely remastered, with bonus tracks. Featuring a powerhouse performance by the central star at the very height of her astonishing abilities, the diverse catalog of material is woven together seamlessly and quite wonderfully by master director Bob Fosse and conductor/musical director Marvin Hamlisch - and that's without even making mention of the tremendous original specialty songs penned by Kander & Ebb for the event, including a song sequel to "Liza With A Z". Discussing all aspects of the LIVE AT THE WINTER GARDEN album and the new digital and CD release of it, Minnelli reminisces about the electric evening with her trademark style, wit, humor, insight and passion while also sharing anecdotes about noted collaborators Bob Fosse, Fred Ebb, John Kander, Charles Aznavour, Marvin Hamlisch and many more. In addition to all about LIVE AT THE WINTER GARDEN and its multitude of charms and riches, Minnelli and I also discuss the new HD remastering of CABARET and her personal opinion of it, having just viewed the pristine new print at its gala debut, and she also shares how she feels the film has held up in the forty years since its premiere and her remembrances from the set. Additionally, Minnelli offers her candid opinions on a host of topics ranging from her ultimate show business legacy to sizing up CABARET versus THE GODFATHER to her affection for pop superstar and devoted Liza fan Lady Gaga to thoughts on Laura Nyro, Stephen Sondheim and much, much more!
Liza Minnelli: LIVE AT THE WINTER GARDEN is available in stores tomorrow or you can download it digitally now. More information is available here.
Liza Minnelli will be signing copies of LIVE AT THE WINTER GARDEN on Wednesday, May 9, at the 5th Ave. Barnes & Noble in NYC at noon. More information is available here.
Exactly Like She
PC: I can't believe the overwhelming praise I have heard for the new HD print of CABARET. Is it really as fabulous as everyone is saying, in your opinion?
LM: Oh, honey, I couldn't believe it either! I really couldn't. And to see it up on the big screen - I mean, I had forgotten Fosse's work. What Fosse did with that film - my God.
PC: A masterpiece.
LM: All of the actors and the whole team were out there in Germany and, you know, no one was paying attention! [Laughs.]
PC: You flew under the radar.
LM: Oh, yeah - and it was great!
PC: Of course, CABARET shares a fortieth anniversary year with THE GODFATHER - often cited as one of the greatest films - yet, CABARET has had perhaps a greater influence on society and film itself.
LM: Yeah - and it won more Academy Awards that year, too! Honey, you have got to go see this [new print] - you won't believe it.
PC: I hope there is a re-release of some sort - even a one-night showing in select cities. Can you confirm a Blu-ray release?
PC: Will you be recording any special features for it?
LM: I don't know yet - we haven't discussed it yet.
PC: Your commentary with Michael Feinstein on the DVD of your father's film, THE BANDWAGON, is delightful - I adore it.
LM: Oh, thank you.
PC: It's so interesting to hear your insights on your father's films. Are you happy with the continued release of your father's films on DVD - we've recently had the Blu-ray premier of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS and also the DVD premiere of THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANT, THE COBWEB and some others.
LM: Oh, yeah - I know what ones you mean and I think it's really great that they're all getting out there.
PC: Is there a chance that your only film that you made with your father, A MATTER OF TIME, will be released on DVD someday soon?
LM: Oh, God - I don't know. [Pause.] They massacred that so badly. It was the final film my father made, you know.
PC: Of course. Robert Osborne thankfully showed it on TCM for the recent Minnelli marathon and spoke of how badly it was butchered in the introduction.
LM: It was horrible what they did to it - it's not the same story at all.
PC: I've heard it was completely re-cut in the editing room.
LM: Yeah - they ruined it. [Sighs.] But, you know, the Minnelli touches are still in there.
PC: Indeed they are. And you got to sing a few songs, too.
LM: Individually, the scenes are wonderful and my dad did a great job.
PC: Do you feel that Fosse was similarly gifted to your father in adapting material from the stage or other mediums - musicals particularly - and finding its most potent potential effect possible onscreen?
LM: Well, I don't know - you know, the movie of CABARET is so different than the stage production. The movie is more of a love story. The characters of the landlady and the professor and everything aren't as prevalent in the film - in other words, there's no "Pineapple Song". [Laughs.]
PC: Or "What Would You Do?", either
LM: Right! But, Bobby did just a wonderful job - it's a really good movie. Damn.
PC: Did you work with Kander & Ebb on any other musical material besides what ended up in the film?
LM: No. Those were the songs he wanted and I wanted - all the rest he wanted, and I suggested "Maybe This Time". I had sung that song on my first album.
PC: Of course.
LM: Yeah - and it worked out beautifully in the film. You will just love this new print - you've gotta see it. It's so great.
PC: There is the infamous entire damaged reel of the film that has now been completely cleaned-up to near-pristine perfection now, true? A clump of dirt got into the film canister.
LM: Ugh, there was a scratch on a the lens, too! It was just horrible. But, now, they've done everything to it and it looks brand new. And, it's still the most modern film you've ever seen.
PC: Your Louise Brooks-esque look is so iconic - and rightfully so. The film is just as contemporary today as it was when it was released, especially in its style, don't you think?
LM: Oh, I know - it is. And, it's all because of his work - of Fosse's work. I guess it's the result of the fact that, you know, we were in Germany and they had sent us there to make a musical about the Nazis - so, we were all really just kind of out there on our own. And, let me tell you - we got away with murder! [Laughs.] Fosse was just incredible - incredible! And so was the whole cast.
PC: What do you remember about the studio's various notes to Fosse about the dailies? They weren't overwhelmed, I've heard.
LM: Well, I'll tell you: one time he got back this note from the studio that said, "It's too foggy in the cabaret sequences - it'll break up in drive-ins," and he tore it in half and threw it over his shoulder in front of the whole cast. [Laughs.] And that was that!
PC: That's hilarious. The look of the film is still so unique and compelling.
LM: Oh, Geoffrey Unsworth - yeah. Fantastic.
PC: One of the great cinematographers - even if only for 2001 and CABARET.
LM: Yes. Yes. Definitely.
PC: What a superb year 2012 is going to be for Liza fans - not only a remastered CABARET Blu-ray, but, finally, Liza Minnelli: LIVE AT THE WINTER GARDEN available on CD and digitally downloadable starting this week! Do you know what the reason for the long hold-up was?
LM: No! I have no idea - I never know about any of that stuff.
PC: Could it have been the CABARET material was owned by another label due to the film having had just come out?
LM: I'm sure if you say that, then it's true.
PC: There are four simply awesome songs by Kander & Ebb premiered in concert here, as well as the great CABARET material we all know and love. Could you tell me a bit about those new songs, especially "Exactly Like Me" and, my personal favorite, "I'm One Of the Smart Ones"?
LM: Oh, I love that one, too! They're all just such wonderful songs, aren't they? They write so brilliantly. "Exactly Like Me" was meant to be a follow-up to "Liza With A Z". So, I remember Freddy wrote it and we howled at it, you know? Because it really took me apart.
PC: It hit close to home.
LM: Yeah! And I made fun of myself doing it. Back then, there were three or four girls in the theater that had made their eyes up like mine and had tried to look like me, and, so, on opening night at the Winter Garden when I sang it for the first time I made them all cry!
PC: No way!
LM: I felt horrible! I found out afterwards about it. So… [Laughs.]
PC: Do you have specific memories of doing the Winter Garden show?
LM: Oh, I remember the whole run! All of it.
PC: Fosse staged it for you, so did you two approach it as a quasi-sequel to LIZA WITH A Z, which you had done just a year or two before to such great acclaim?
LM: Yeah, it was, sort of. He helped me on it a great deal. Ron Lewis did some choreography for a few numbers, too.
PC: "Natural Man"?
LM: Yeah, Ron Lewis did that one. Later on, I put that number into the Radio City show, too.
PC: There's an amazing photo of that number in the booklet of the new CD.
LM: Oh, that's a great picture! I know what one you're talking about - I wish I could remember who the dancers are in it with me, but I can't.
PC: How was the song list for the Winter Garden concert devised? Was it you and Fred Ebb?
LM: Yes - me and Freddy always did it. Always.
PC: Were you familiar with Barbra Streisand's "If You Could Read My Mind" from STONEY END when you performed it then?
LM: No, I wasn't - but, damn, I would love to hear that!
PC: That's a fantastic song.
LM: I have to say that what I love most about it is what Marvin did to it - mixing it with "Come Back To Me" in the way that he did; but, the emotion was all the same.
PC: He made that medley into a whole new song of its own, really - a theatrical statement.
LM: Indeed! It's a movie he made out of it, you could say.
PC: Did you ever work with Laura Nyro? She was just inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame and you've recorded "Wedding Bell Blues", so I'd love to know if you knew her at all.
LM: Well, I knew her. You see, when I was at the Empire Room at the Waldorf, she used to come and see me every night.
PC: Really? I have never heard that before.
LM: Really. She did. You know, she was a little whacko, but she was great. The nights she wanted to be introduced to the audience she would put a red rose on the table, but if the red rose wasn't there then I wouldn't introduce her.
PC: Were you a fan of her song catalog?
LM: Oh, yes - I loved them all.
PC: Another great songwriter you have sung somewhat sparingly over the years is Stephen Sondheim. Of course, you premiered "Water Under The Bridge" at Carnegie Hall and "Old Friends" was a concert staple of yours for many years, but do you have memories of working with him one-on-one at any point?
LM: Well, you know, I don't have that much history with him - I was usually with Fred and John. I loved him whenever we did anything and I think he liked me… but, I can't tell.
PC: That's so Sondheim.
LM: [Laughs.] Well, you know, he works so hard he just gets into his own thing - but, he is so good! My God, the lyric to "Some People" alone!
PC: And he was so young when he wrote that lyric, too.
LM: Oh, I know - just incredible.
PC: You were in your mid-20s doing the Winter Garden show. Looking back, do you think that you made all the right moves at that point in your career? You were on a real career high.
LM: Well, I think I trusted the right people. That was always what I knew how to do best - was to find people who knew more than I did, instead of just people who agreed with me, and to learn from them.
PC: Hal Prince, Fred Ebb, John Kander - the greatest.
LM: Fred and John really started everything for me - everything.
PC: When you last did this column, we spoke about how their songs may ultimately be the most important aspect of your legacy...
LM: Well, honey, I really just leave that kind of stuff to you guys to do! [Big Laugh.]
PC: "What Makes A Man A Man" is one of your finest concert pieces - a song penned by Charles Aznavour, who is well represented on the new Winter Garden album. How did you discover that song and Aznavour's music in general?
LM: Well, I have been singing his songs for so long. You know, Fred and John influenced me first and then I saw Aznavour and I said, "Oh, that's what I want to do - I want to make each song a movie." It's like each song is an acting piece - it has a world of its own, you know?
LM: Yes. So, I went to him and I asked him, "Excuse me, Mr. Aznavour, may I be your protégé?" And he said, [French Accent.] "Yes." He had seen me and he knew who I was. So, off I went to Paris and he got me a job at this great place - this small little theater.
PC: Do you happen to remember which one it might have been?
LM: [Pauses. Thinks.] The Olympia - Piaf had played there.
PC: You performed Piaf's famous "The Circle" at the Winter Garden, so were you familiar with her at that point?
LM: Yes - I mean, I had heard of her, but I did not know her. Aznavour said to me, "Oh, you're nothing like Piaf - you're just a good actress and you sing." [Laughs.]
PC: Talk about cutting to the chase! Leave it to the French.
LM: Yeah - and I love that! Really, who could compare anybody to her? For him to say that to me was just fantastic.
PC: Was "And I In My Chair" one of the songs he performed the first time you saw him? What do you remember about that night?
LM: I went to a concert - I think I was 17 - and when he walked out onstage I stopped breathing… because of the power he had! [Pause.] Ugh, I just can't explain it.
LM: Yeah - that's right. It was like that - wherever he went, he took you with him.
PC: What do you remember him performing most vividly?
LM: He sang his whole show at that point - I remember "Les Comedians". You know, [Sings.] "Les comedians." He taught me something great - he taught me, [French Accent.] "One gesture per song." [Laughs.]
PC: Fantastic advice.
LM: He was just so terrific with stuff like that.
PC: Speaking of gestures: who devised that classic L pose in LIZA WITH A Z - was that Fosse or Fred or you?
LM: It was Fred - all Fred.
PC: What did Charles and Fred think of each other? They collaborated on some superb translations for you, of course.
LM: They got along great! You know, Fred translated all those songs for me - "And I In My Chair" and "You've Let Yourself Go" - and they were just brilliant translations. Brilliant.
PC: You sing "There Is A Time" on your Winter Garden album, but that is a rare non-Ebb translation of Aznavour. Did you discover it already translated and just performed it as is?
LM: Yes. I remember singing it on my first nightclub tour in Los Angeles and I looked down one night and there sitting at the first table was Aznavour!
PC: Wow - so you sang one of his songs for the composer himself.
LM: Yes! Yes.
PC: Was that daunting?
LM: Well, it was, but I just couldn't believe he was there at all - I couldn't believe it! I just kept going - you know, you just keep going on, [Sings. Stutters.] "There is a t-t-time." [Laughs.]
PC: You have since gone on to share the stage with him, as well.
LM: Charles and I have performed together my whole career. There is one concert that we did all over Europe called AZNAVOUR & MINNELLI that we recorded at Le Palais des Congrès de Paris that you can get on DVD. We've played Carnegie Hall together, too. He's still performing!
PC: Would you say you enjoy performing with the composer of the song you're singing, then?
LM: Yes - I especially love singing with Charles.
PC: Where does the Kander & Ebb song "Where You Are" come from - an early version of FLORA, perhaps?
LM: I think it was originally from FLORA for about a minute and a half, but it was cut.
PC: Have you recorded all of the songs from Kander & Ebb's catalogue that you have wanted to do at this point or are there still a few left to do?
LM: Well, gosh, I don't really know - I have to go back and look. But, I'm so thrilled to have introduced these songs and to be thought of as these songs of theirs. You know, introducing a song is a big deal. I think that what you said is true - maybe people will remember me most some day for the music that has been written for me.
PC: Your mother had some songs written explicitly for her that are an indelible part of the fabric of American culture and you do, too, thanks to "Cabaret" and "New York, New York", at the very least.
LM: Aww, that's so nice. I have to say that I love "And The World Goes Round" the most, though.
PC: Indeed. What was the first time you heard that song? What was your experience of it?
LM: It was the same way I always heard all of the songs - Freddy sang it and John played it.
PC: You were in New York, then?
LM: We were still in New York.
PC: Did they come to your place or did you go to Fred's?
LM: I went to Fred's house.
PC: I've heard that everyone always ended up at his house for one reason or another.
LM: Oh, yeah, they did - because it was the place to go! [Laughs.]
PC: So, you went alone?
LM: Yeah, I went over to his place and it was just him and John. It was always him and John.
PC: What was your initial reaction to it when they were done performing it for you?
LM: Oh, I just couldn't believe it! Couldn't believe it. It was just beautiful and the thought of it is so beautiful. You know, those songs grow with you - especially that one. The words of the song - as you grow older, you just get calmer and more confident saying them.
PC: You have lived through "kicks" and "kicks in the shins", for sure, to cite two lyrics.
LM: Oh, yeah - but, all of us have, really.
PC: But, as you now sing, "I'm not going like Elsie" - or like Sally, for that matter. And you take that change to heart, yes?
LM: Yes - exactly. You know, I do that line because it's a great thing that makes people laugh and it makes me happy.
PC: Being the premier Fosse interpreter, I have always wanted to know of your association with Michael Bennett. Did you ever work with Michael Bennett on HULLABALOO?
LM: Yeah, I may have, but I know I worked with Michael a lot on Ed Sullivan, though.
PC: What was he like?
LM: Oh, he was great - he was wonderful.
PC: A CHORUS LINE and DREAMGIRLS are true innovative masterpieces, wouldn't you say?
LM: Oh, I thought CHORUS LINE was just amazing!
PC: Is it true Fosse was not a fan, though? It's been said and written that that was the case.
LM: Well, he never said anything bad about it to me, so I don't know, but I know I just loved it. I thought it was great.
PC: Your influence is incalculable - Lady Gaga cites you as her foremost inspiration and you even appeared in the HBO film of THE MONSTER BALL since you were there that night and visited her backstage. Do you find her affection for you to be an honor?
LM: Oh, I just love it - and I really like her. You know, she sings her *ss off! She really does - she sings great. She knows what she is doing on that stage and she is humble in front of the press - I mean, I really do like her.
PC: Would you consider doing a duet with her in the future, then?
LM: Oh, sure! I'd love to.
PC: Will you be appearing as Lucille Two in the new ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT Netflix TV series and purported feature film, as far as you know?
LM: If they happen - sure! I hope they do.
PC: It's shooting soon, so we have yet another great Liza event to look forward to in 2012 if that happens - this really is going to be quite a year!
LM: Yee-haw! [Laughs.]
PC: Thank you so much for this today, Liza. You are divine - it was a rare privilege and an extraordinary delight to talk to you, as always. You are the absolute star of stars.
LM: Aww, I love you, too, Pat, and thank you so much. Bye bye.
Photos: 1 by Walter McBride / Retna Ltd.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro