For audiences lucky enough to live in Florida this month, or if you find yourself in Las Vegas this March 29-31 at the Luxor Hotel, you'll find Liza Minnelli trying out a great new ACT II consisting of the extraordinary vocal arrangements and humor that defined her Godmother, the singularly unique Kay Thompson.
A sidebar, as if that alone wasn't interesting enough, her Godfather she tells us during the show, was Ira Gershwin! Gee, don't some kids have all the luck?
For those of you who don't know who Kay Thompson was, I won't waste the space here, but go knock yourselves out on Google. However, you might know her from one of her rare film appearances, the most famous one being FUNNY FACE, starring Audrey Hepburn.
This insanely talented woman had the wildest ear for arranging, particularly for vocals. Thompson and the Williams Brothers splashed onto the nightclub scene like fireworks. She and Ms. Minnelli were friends 'til the end of Ms. Thompson's life, when she died on July 2, 1998.
Liza, currently touring, is traveling with Jim Caruso, Cortes Alexander, Johnny Rodgers and Clarke Thorell, all serving up delicious vocalese, with Minnelli for some terrific numbers that the audience totally enjoyed.
Through a little bit of "sleuthing," I learned that her good friend Sam Harris had helped her write a lot of the material regarding Kay Thompson, her career and their friendship. This is really going to turn into something good and, although Minnelli told the audience the night I was there, that this was their first time performing the material and that she was nervous, there was no need to be. An anagram for "Liza Minnelli" should be "SHOW BUSINESS."
Through all the ups and downs of her career and all the health issues, as you sit there watching her, it all disappears, including imagining that she's been through two hip replacements and is still strutting around like she did in her teens. It's simple really...the magic comes from within...and the years don't matter, because she always had it in her body and still does.
As for her singing, the night that I saw it, she was in excellent voice and I couldn't believe the way that she tore through some of the numbers, and particularly the cleverness of the Kay Thompson choices. But the biggest payoff came at the end, with a story that I had never heard. She told us earlier in the show, when discussing Kay, that they had acted together in TELL ME THAT YOU LOVE ME JUNIE MOON, and that Kay had coached her personally, vocally, for Martin Scorsese's NEW YORK, NEW YORK, in which she co-starred with Robert DeNiro.
After all the vocal histrionics and enjoyment of this section of the show where she and the four guys shone (with a band led by Billy Stritch, consisting of musicians who have been with Minnelli for a long time, including legendary drummer and conductor Bill Lavorgna - who also worked with her mom, Judy Garland) she tore into "The World Goes Round" and the signature "New York, New York".
In this new context, they were positively mesmerizing!
Liza Minnelli and Kay Thompson (taken in the '70s)