Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Let down by Liza Minnelli

Liza Minnelli's show at the Palace has been hailed with a storm of overheated praise but two voices have dared to say it's not all that. One is my colleague Adam Feldman in TONY ("Most of the show is not like watching a car crash, as some have feared; it is more like watching traffic") and the other is John Lahr at The New Yorker. Lahr had more wordage at his disposal than Adam and he was able to zero in on some of the aspects that bugged me the most about the evening: Minnelli's egotistical manipulations.
"She is all chutzpah and calculation. Although she has vast amounts of energy and an overwhelming desire to please, she has, strange to say, very little sense of fun. Instead of taking you on a journey with her renditions, she continually brings you back to her, to the legend of her collapse—the divorces, the drinking, the depressions—and to her theatrical pedigree, which includes her godparents, Ira Gershwin and Kay Thompson, who more or less take care of the second act. (…) In one song, written especially for the show, Minnelli promises her audience, “I would never leave you”—a truly terrifying piece of show-biz flimflammery. In fact, what she means to say is the opposite: Please, don’t leave me."
I felt like a Grinch at the Palace considering the Sheila, sitting next to me, was enjoying herself. But there it is: I was bored out of my skull by Liza's frantic neediness, her attempts at being coy (playing her breathlessness and need to rest for a joke when in fact she was breathless and needed to rest) and her often misguided choices—you don't attempt a song as fast and loaded with rhyming puns as Comden & Green's "If You Hadn't (But You Did)" ("If I had not seen you pen sexy letters to Gwen in your own hieroglyph/If you had not left me home when you had two seats for South Pacif") when your diction and breathing aren't up to snuff.

The Sheila remarked that I'm uneasy with older women on stage, which isn't true at all—I'd gladly pay to see Marian Seldes or Angela Lansbury read the phone book. What I'm uneasy with is the misguidedness of Minnelli's show (it's way too big for her current vocal abilities), her constant reminders of where she came from (few outside of the Kennedy family have so shamelessly milked their bloodlines) and the morbid sycophancy of her fans, for whom the fact that Liza isn't keeling over on stage is enough to warrant a standing o. Fine then, I am a Grinch!

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