BWW Interviews: The Legendary Liza Minnelli on Broadway Memories, Wild Nights at Studio 54 & New Concert!
Liza Minnelli, winner of four Tony Awards, an Oscar, a special "Legends" Grammy, two Golden Globe Awards and an Emmy, is one of the entertainment world's consummate performers. In film, on stage and in television, Liza has won critical acclaim, a multitude of fans, and high recognition from her show business peers. In short, she is the true definition of the word 'superstar'.
Born to actress/singer Judy Garland and film director Vincent Minnelli, Liza began her professional career at the age of 16 in an Off-Broadway revival of the musical “Best Foot Forward.” Numerous memorable Broadway performances followed, including “Flora the Red Menace,” “Chicago,” “The Rink,” “The Act,” and “Victor/Victoria.” Liza has also starred in several feature films including “New York, New York,” “Arthur,” “The Sterile Cuckoo” and the Academy Award-winning “Cabaret.”
Minnelli made a triumphant return to Broadway in 2008 with “Liza's at the Palace ...” which went on to win the Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event. In between her many TV and film roles, Liza has never stopped touring at some of the world's most prestigious venues and has long been considered one of the most exciting and entertaining concert performers. At 65-years-old, she is as committed, spirited and enthusiastic about her craft as ever!
Recently, Ms. Minnelli took an unfortunate fall and broke her foot and is temporarily confined to a wheelchair. However, in true show-biz style, she refuses to disappoint her fans and will still perform her high energy show next Saturday evening, February 4th at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ. (visit njpac.org for details) As the steadfast entertainer told me herself, "Nothing stops me!"
Liza took a moment out of her busy schedule to speak with BWW about her upcoming concert, her favorite Broadway memories and the real story behind those 'wild nights' at the legendary Studio 54 during the 1970's.
I want to start by thanking you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.
Oh no, don't be silly - Thank you!
Let's start by talking about your upcoming show at New Jersey Performing Arts Center next week.
I know I am so excited!
What types of songs do you plan to sing in the show?
Well the show's called 'Confessions'. So they're songs that mean a lot to me. And some of them are a little risqué and some of them are just funny and some are sad you know - it's all wonderful songs that I've found for this album I just did called 'Confessions'. Also, at one point in the show I'm gonna try to do 'Liza With a Z', but I can't dance because I've got pins in my leg and it's broken in three places. But you know, nothing stops me!
Well I remember your dance scene in the recent 'Sex and the City' movie and you were certainly able to move for that!
Oh thank you!
I know that you are going to be appearing in an upcoming episode of TV Land's 'Hot in Cleveland'. Was that filmed yet?
No, I haven't done it yet.
Have you ever worked with Betty White before?
No but I feel like I know her. I'm around her a bit and I'm just such a fan. And it should be wonderful. I go out around the 12th of February to film that.
Looking forward to that! I recently saw an interview with Mary J. Blige in which she said of you, "A person knows when they're listening to Liza Minnelli sing - there's only one Liza", which is certainly true. You have such a unique vocal style...
Oh thank you!
You're very welcome. Were there any early influences that helped you create your authentic style?
What it was was that I was always a dancer you know, but I really only learned to sing because I wanted to go on Broadway - that lit my whole body, when I saw Broadway shows. So, when I found what I consider, and what people call 'my style', was when I saw (French singer, songwriter and actor) Charles Aznavour, who was a great actor in his time, that's what it was all about for me. For instance, the woman who's singing a particular song, take any song, I try to imagine, what color hair does she have? What does she look out the window and see? The city? The country? What's happened up to that point when she sings these words? And so it's different characters when I sing, and I have a character breakdown of each song. It's funny!
Unbelievable! So it's really very performance-oriented when you're singing?
Oh yeah - they're all little movies!
Speaking of performing, are there any future plans for a return to Broadway?
Oh gosh - I have so many other places I have to go first! On the 4th I'm in New Jersey, I'm doing the Kennedy Center in DC, then Hollywood and Vegas and London and Montreal and South America...
Oh my goodness!
You know I'm a gypsy! That's what they call people on Broadway, particularly dancers, because they travel from show to show.
Yes - living out of a suitcase.
And you know the first show I opened in on Broadway 'Flora', I got the 'Gypsy Robe'. Which was amazing because usually you had to be on Broadway forever and I was only 19! But they admired me for having learned the craft - I had changed scenery and painted sets and just learned.
Is there a favorite Broadway show that you've appeared in or is each one special in its own way?
I think they're all special - hopefully. I'm always passionate about what I'm doing at the moment. My work is kind of an immediacy. And that's my passion and through living that, I find the show.
I don't know if you're familiar with a recent documentary called 'Ultrasuede', about the life and times of Halston, the legendary designer who I know was a very good friend of yours.
Could you tell me a little bit about that exciting era during the 70's and your nights at the famed Studio 54?
Well, what was really funny about Studio 54 was that Halston used it as a means of getting everyone out of his house on weeknights!
Yes - because they would stay in his house until like 2 in the morning and he had to work the next day and so did I - I was on Broadway! So we'd kind of go to the club and take people in and stay for maybe 10 - 15 minutes and then sneak out the back door and go home!
He just wanted to clear out his house!
That's right! That's how it all started! (laughing) And then the glitter, the glamour, the gutter of it all... hilarious! And it was an interesting period. The fact that they kept all of those people outside of that place - nobody could get in. I think a lot of them were hired, I mean it was just to build the reputation of the club. But you know Studio 54 had been the theater where Ed Sullivan filmed many of his shows so I knew every inch of it and I knew how to get out of it!
You knew where the back door was!
Yes I sure did! I spent most of my time in the lighting booth because I loved to run the lights to the music. Well, that's my father side of me in me!
That must have been fun.
On a personal note, when I told my teenaged daughter that I would be speaking with you she was just so excited and it made me realize that you truly transcend generations.
Thank you darling! Yeah it shocks me too because I go and see people that I know, their kids and their parents and their grandchildren, its just like whole families that I've known all these years - it's a big part of the element.
Do you feel like you're ever making career choices or adjustments in order to appeal to all generations - it seems like such a natural gift that you have.
No, it's just that I'm a performer, nobody does what we do anyplace in the world. Broadway was born in America, people sang and danced and acted. And that was the American art form. In other places, people danced or they sang or they were actors. So to bring that to Europe and to all of these places was and is so exciting for me.
Do you have a chance to take in many Broadway shows?
No I haven't. I haven't been able to move around because of this damn ankle!
Oh - it's going to be tough performing next week.
We'll figure it out! The audience and I, we'll figure it out together - we'll just play it by ear! Thank you honey!
Liza Minnelli will be appearing at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center on Saturday, February 4th at 8:00 pm. Tickets are $39, $59, $79 and $125 and are available by calling 1-888-GO-NJPAC (1-888-466-5722), or online at NJPAC.org or in person at NJPAC Box Office, One Center Street in downtown Newark.