Los Angeles Concert Review: SIMPLY LIZA: LIZA MINNELLI (Walt Disney Concert Hall)

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by Tom Chaits on March 26, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours

BECAUZE SHE’S LIZA

My anticipation was high but my expectations were low as I entered Disney Hall for the performance of Simply Liza: Liza Minnelli. She has not been having a particularly good century so far and I feared I was about to see an icon fall from grace. My trepidation was not completely unfounded, but surprisingly the going wasn’t nearly as rough as it could have been. I was forgetting one small detail: she’s Liza and, no matter what, the fans would still adore her and she them.

Liza Minnelli - photo credit Todd BowersIt’s not a question of age but ability. Lena Horne continued to perform with great success into her twilight years, and wowed Broadway with her one-woman show Lena Horne: A Lady and Her Music (which closed on her 65th birthday in 1982). Tony Bennett is still going strong at nearly ninety. Barbra Streisand did an arena tour at 70. Turning 68 in May, Cher is in the midst of the umpteenth incarnation of her farewell tour. Andy Williams bowled me over at 86 with a pitch perfect performance I was lucky enough to witness. On the other hand, many did not weather the storm quite as well. The gild was definitely off the lily for Williams’ co-star Ann-Margret. At 20 years his junior, her performance was equal to watching a train wreck. Frank Sinatra kept touring long after his voice had abandoned him. Who knew “New York, New York” could be reduced to just 4 notes? That of course did not stop the masses from attending his shows. After all he was the one and only Frank Sinatra.

Liza Minnelli, photo credit Todd BowersThat same magnetic power, the illusion of greatness past and fond memories of times gone by, is no doubt what attracts concertgoers to Ms. Minnelli. She is a living legend. Not only has she won the Oscar, the Tony, the Emmy, the Grammy, and the Golden Globe, she is the spawn of Hollywood royalty: Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli. She is the final vestige of a starry history that time has tinted with rose-colored glasses. Seeing her live is not a show, it’s an event; an event that may never be repeated again. She could do no wrong.

Liza MinnelliAt 68, Liza is looking worse for the wear. Her well-documented life challenges, failed marriages, medical problems, and addictions have taken their toll and provided much tabloid fodder. Doctors told her that her recent bout with encephalitis in 2000 would leave her crippled and nearly mute. Yet she proved them wrong and kept on plugging. She is one cowgirl that has been ridden hard and put away wet, yet she keeps coming back for one more busting bronco ride. She’s a survivor. She’s a performer. She’s the Energizer Bunny and loyal devotees love her for it.

Liza MinnelliHer entrance was greeted with a rousing standing ovation befitting her legendary status. The crowd was definitely on her side from the get-go; as the evening progressed it was clear they were willing to forgive her her trespasses. The voice is simply not the powerhouse it once was. That magnificent instrument of yesteryear is no more. The high notes are difficult to find and the belt is gone. Most of the melodies find a home in her lower register allowing her husky tone to infuse the tunes with more emotion reminiscent of the shaky vibrato her mother employed in her final years. She is continually out of breath and avoids having to sustain notes by transforming herself into a master of “talk singing.” Gone are the big dance numbers and she opts instead to remain seated for most of the performance. Her patter is quite amusing and her self-effacing humor made her all the more endearing. When she didn’t even come close to hitting the big note at the end of “Cabaret” she stopped, looked at the audience and said “that’s not good” simply shaking it off and giving it another go. She still missed it by a mile but no one seemed to care, giving her the second standing ovation of the night.

Liza MinnelliBacked by her longtime accompanist/musical director Billy Stritch and a six piece band (Chip Wilson-bass, Brian Brake-drums, Bill Hayes-percussion, Ross Konikoff-trumpet, Dave Trigg-trumpet, and Don Willis-reeds) she covered all the hits as best she could: “Liza With a ‘Z’,” “Ring Them Bells,” “Maybe This Time,” and jazz standards like “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “Our Love Is Here To Stay.” She closed with “But the World Goes ‘Round” (her third standing “O” of the night) and “New York, New York.” As she approached the song’s big finish she stopped, coughed, cleared her throat and said, “I wanna make this good.” She didn’t, but that didn’t stop the throngs from once again leaping to their feet. For her encore she performed a touching rendition of “Every Time We Say Goodbye” center stage with Mr. Stritch on the piano. It was an apropos finale. She clearly loves to perform and did not want the love-fest to end.

Liza MinnelliWhile in the end I was happy I got the chance to see her perform yet again (yes I am old enough to have borne witness to her glory days in person), I was also a bit sad. I realized for most of the night I was blocking out the image of the “new” Liza that was before me and replacing it with the “old” Liza who was alive and vibrant and living in my mind – the one who sang with reckless abandon and danced her way into the hearts of millions and whose incomparable talents lit up the stage and screen. That’s the Liza I will always choose to remember. In the meantime she’ll continue to keep doing what she’s doing because that’s what the fans demand and what she needs. She’ll keep doing it because she can – because she’s Simply Liza.

previous production photos from Liza’s Facebook Page

Liza Minnelli

Simply Liza: Liza Minnelli
presented by LA Phil
Walt Disney Concert Hall
played March 25, 2014
for future LA Phil events, call 323.850.2000 or visit www.LAPhil.com
for more on Simply Liza’s global tour, visit www.officiallizaminnelli.com

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

santiago rodriguez March 26, 2014 at 2:22 pm

who is the scum of a waiter who made this nasty comment about Ann-Margret. He clearly has no class himself. let’s see if he can get out there and do what she does at his age. OMG, where do these stupid opinionated people come from?

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FP March 27, 2014 at 12:54 pm

What is the duration of the concert? 2 hours?

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Tom Chaits March 28, 2014 at 3:39 pm

I don’t know the exact time. It was closer to 90-100 minutes without an intermission. It started after 8pm and ended before 10pm

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Rich David March 30, 2014 at 10:38 am

Dear Tom, Thank you for your honest and professional review of Liza’s show at Disney. It is hard to review a legend as people tend to be very emotional and hysterical if you say anything negative. It is like attacking their religion. I too am old enough to have seen Liza in the glory days performing live back as far as 1972, also, all the other greats you mentioned. Lena was a force of nature who’s voice was still in tact when she did a concert a the Supper Club in NYC when she was 80. I saw the “Lady and her Music” twice and was blown away. Cher is still gorgeous, with her strong, dark rock voice (that can sing high), sounding like she did in the 60s. Why not, she never did drugs or abused herself and has been a star since she was 16. Sinatra in the last years, people came to SEE him, not HEAR him. And Liza, I think, is in this group. I cannot go see her anymore for the reasons you named. When you sing you have to hit the notes, be on pitch and have rhythm. Funny thing: Liza could do an entire concert (Confessions CD) where she hits all the notes and sounds good. But she chooses to sing songs she can’t and then makes it part of the act. This to me tarnishes the legacy of a great star. She is not growing old gracefully. Joan Baez is 72 and still touring all over the world with a diminished register but she does songs that fit her perfectly and she looks great. She is growing old gracefully. Pay attention Liza.

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