WINNER OF FOUR TONY AWARDS, AN OSCAR, A GRAMMY, TWO GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS AND AN EMMY, LIZA MINNELLI IS A SHOWBIZ LEGEND. SHE TALKS TO CARY GEE ABOUT HER RETURN TO THE UK STAGE, LADY GAGA, AND WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE A GAY ICON
Last summer, Liza Minnelli was forced to cancel her only scheduled UK appearance on the advice of doctors, leaving many of her British fans fearing that they may never get to see this living, breathing, all-singing, all-dancing icon in the flesh. Imagine the excitement, then, upon hearing that Minnelli, now 70, plans to return to these shores later this year, for a series of “intimate” performances, beginning at her London “home”, the London Palladium, on 20 September. Fittingly it was at this same theatre that a then 18-year-old Minnelli appeared alongside her mother, Judy Garland, in a now legendary concert, in 1964.
An Intimate Evening With Liza Minnelli will adopt the format of “An Audience With…” Minnelli will discuss her life onstage, invite questions from the audience, and sing the songs that have made her an undisputed star. The evening will culminate with Minnelli’s induction into the Palladium’s Hall of Fame.
I tracked Liza down in LA, which in itself proved no mean feat, to ask this living legend how she is, and why has she decided to return to London now?
“Well, I’m rehearsing a brand new show. I’m trying to put in every song that anyone has ever requested — all of the old favourites — and I’m really looking forward to it. I love London. I moved there as a little girl, London was really my second home, and I have so many friends there. And now I have a new one! The rest of the show, well… you’ll just have to wait and see!”
Liza’s laughter suggests that not only is she feeling more than fine, but that she is also in a playful mood, engaging with her gay fans as only she can. What does she attribute her status as a gay icon, a sobriquet that, in her case, is fully deserved?
“Good taste!” Liza shrieks with laughter. “I mean that. That and our shared sensitivity, the fight we have all gone through not to be labelled. I mean, I really have no idea. I’m just so grateful.”
Of course, Minnelli’s life has been more than just a cabaret. There is a serious side to being a gay icon, a responsibility that she has never shunned. It was Minnelli, a good friend of Rock Hudson, who first alerted Liz Taylor to the scourge of AIDS.
Taylor established amfAR, the American Foundation for Aids Research, which has so far raised and distributed more than $300m to more than 3,000 research teams around the globe, in an effort to combat the syndrome. Minnelli continues to work tirelessly for amfAR. Why is this work so important to her?
“Because friends are dying. People I don’t even know are dying. I mean, it’s getting better, but it’s still horrifying. I knew so many people affected personally. Now we are winning and gay people have worked hard for this victory. I think it’s karma. It’s getting better and better each year.”
You’d think that having performed with everyone from Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr to Donna Summer and Michael Jackson there was no one left on whom Minnelli is still awaiting a call. You’d be wrong. Like her good friend Tony Bennett — is there anyone in Hollywood Liza is not friends with? — Minnelli is still hoping for a call from Lady Gaga.
“I love Gaga. She is so determined and I love that she has chosen to look the way she does. And what a voice!”
I dare to ask how Minnelli’s own voice is right now.
“My voice is good, I think. It’s up to you to come and hear me sing and decide for yourself. But I think I sound good.”
So can we expect any full concert dates in the future?
“Yes. After London we’re going to Biloxi, Mississippi,” she says and once again Liza laughs her head off.
What’s wrong with Biloxi?
“Not a damn thing. It’s just a private joke. Have you been? Biloxi is a long way from London!”
Despite, or perhaps because of being born into Hollywood royalty, Minnelli’s life, like her mother’s before her, has been beset with difficulties. Addictions, ill health and personal calamities which included marriage to a gay husband (Garland’s protégé Peter Allen, in case you were wondering) have all been overcome with resilience and candour. Does she have any advice for anyone struggling to get “from cradle to tomb” without “too much pills and liquor”?
“Well, the advice I’d give is to thine own self be true,” she says. “It’s certainly how I’ve always tried to live my life.”
Is there a particular song that sums up Liza’s life, one song that means more to her than all the others?
“Oh gosh, there are so many, but I’d have to choose I Love a Violin.”
Suddenly Liza bursts into song. It’s a slightly surreal moment, being sung to privately by Liza Minnelli.
“The song was written and performed by my godmother, Kay Thompson, and is very special.” And I can confirm that Liza’s voice does, indeed, still sound spectacular.
Finally I ask her if she has a special message for all her gay fans who will be out celebrating Pride this summer.
“Yes. Remember that life is grand. And thank you so, so much for my life, and for my career. I can’t wait to see you all in September. It’s going to be one hell of a show!”
Live And In Conversation — An Intimate Evening With Liza Minnelli is at the London Palladium on 20 September, and continues at Sheffield City Hall on 22 September and Glasgow Clyde Auditorium on 24 September.