Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Liza: A Real Trouper

While it may not be "cool" to admit it, I've been a fan of Liza Minnelli's probably since I saw her in "Caberet," back in 1972. I was 10 years old and one of her youngest fans (and I probably still hold that distinction, confirmed time and time again by looking at others in the audience when I'm lucky enough to see her in concert).

The last couple of years, she's been in the news for allegations made by her soon-to-be-ex-husband, David Gest, and a former employee. Liza married Gest in a rather bizarre display of excess amid a host of Hollywood "legends" (more her mother's generation than her own), but the marriage to the promoter (and dear friend of Michael Jackson and his family; both Michael and Tito Jackson were in the wedding party) lasted barely a year. Now they're in the courts, sniping back and forth. The most ludicrous claim he's made, in my opinion, is that she beat him up one night while plastered on vodka. I submit to you that if you can't run away from a staggering drunk with two replaced hips (not to mention a woman who is about half his size), well, maybe there's something going on with YOU. I'd hazard a few guesses, but I'm not going to say anything about this litigious lout that could come back to bite me. (As this is a journal, though, I believe my personal thoughts are just that, personal.)

I will say that Gest was momentarily good for her career. He whipped her into shape (controlling her food choices and portions) and she played a solid two weeks at the Beacon Theater in NYC in mid-2002. I was there for closing night, and she was astounding. By 2002, I had seen her perform live five times since 1977, and she just kept getting better.

Then the marriage went sour, and Liza's career was back-burnered. However, she recently did an appearance on the "Arrested Development" sitcom, which reportedly enjoyed its highest ratings to date. She is also co-starring in a movie with Parker Posey that should be released later this year. And she's doing the occasional concert!

A few weeks ago, I had heard that Liza would be at Westbury Music Fair on Long Island (now being renamed The North Fork Theater at Westbury, another corporate naming travesty, not unlike that of Candlestick Park in San Fransisco. Both my memories, and those of the performers who appeared there, will always be of Westbury Music Fair...in fact, both Liza and her special guest, Ben Vereen, shared some of their favorite stories from years of appearing at that venue.) My aunt Judy and I went to the box office and were astounded to score fifth row tickets to the February 20th show. Amazing!

What was even more amazing was that Liza's three night stand at Westbury was not sold out. Her appearances there were barely promoted, even to the point that no artist merchandise was offered for sale. How sad. I asked an usher what was going on and she said, "no, they're not selling anything, but the show is wonderful -- you're going to have a great evening!"

And we did. Liza came down to the stage through the audience (Westbury is "in the round") and opened with "Old Friends," looking great and sounding better. She then introduced Ben Vereen, who performed some Broadway standards and a tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr. A very good performance, made better when he informed the audience that he would soon be back on Broadway as the Wizard in "Wicked."

Then Liza took over. She seemed rather at ease with the audience, and so grateful for the overwhelming reception we gave her. I do not exaggerate when I tell you that for every song, there was a standing ovation, and she deserved them. Working with a slight cold (kiss of death for most singers), she was still in magnificent voice and her stage presence thoroughly professional. At one point, she introduced John Kander from the audience. Kander, with his late collaborator, Fred Ebb, wrote most of the songs and shows associated with Minnelli, notably "New York, New York," "Caberet," and "Chicago." Now, some of you Broadway purists might object to the inclusion of "Chicago," but when its original star Gwen Verdon fell ill, Liza took over the role with about one week of rehearsal. From all accounts, she was fantastic.

She treated us to a couple of lesser-known songs from both those shows, including "So What," from the original stage version of "Caberet," performed on stage by the legendary Lotte Lenya. Another highlight was when she transformed an Old English ballad into a variety of musical forms. Naturally, she closed the show with "Caberet" and "New York, New York," to her loudest ovations of the evening. The audience could not get enough of her, and she returned to the stage, conferred with her arranger/pianist Billy Stritch (marvellously talented in his own right) and long-time conductor/drummer Bill Lavorgna, and ended up doing a lovely acapella version of "I'll Be Seeing You." (She'd told the audience that they'd run out of their music, so she chose to leave us with that song.) Again, she didn't miss a note, and my ears were listening sharply.

Liza is one of the few living entertainers who can be mentioned in the same breath as Sammy Davis, Jr., mother Judy Garland, and, yes, Frank Sinatra. Fortunately for us, she's a generation younger, so if she stays the course she's currently on, we should be able to enjoy her talent for many, many years. She's a showstopper with very few peers (Streisand is one).

Next month, I'll be reporting on a special trip I'm taking to New Orleans to see Elvis Costello at The House of Blues. Another generation, another genius. And proof that my musical taste is truly eclectic!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

I Smile Broadly When...

1. I'm proven right. This will likely be the last chance I get to crow about this one, so listen up: The Screen Actors Guild just gave the award for Best Actor in a TV Movie/Mini-Series to Geoffrey Rush for "The Life And Death of Peter Sellers." (happy dance)

2. there's a cat purring in my lap. It's usually Moochie, though Scraps and Spunky Bastard have been known to snuggle up beside me, also purring. Moochie is THE lap cat, though. And a love bug. She stretches up and tilts her head for a kiss, and not just to me; also to visiting friends. Maybe she's just a kitty slut.

3. things work out nicely. I just scored fifth row seats for Liza Minnelli in two weeks, and two sold-out tickets for Elvis Costello. What's really cool about the latter one (and, yes, my musical taste IS wide and varied) is that it's at the House of Blues in New Orleans, so I'll be flying down for the weekend and hanging with my cousin, who had the clout to snag the tickets. Trust me, it'll be a mega-blast!

4. great things happen to great people. A friend of mine just got word from her doctor that she has absolutely nothing wrong with her liver. About a year ago, her liver numbers went flying off the chart for reasons that have yet to be discovered/proven, so she's been going through hell. Plus, I lost a drinking buddy for a while. We'll be cracking open a bottle of red to toast her health, and I mean SOON!

5. I reconnect with an old friend. And it's as if days, not years, have passed.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Things to Have With You on a Desert Island (Part II)

The first in this series dealt solely with books. Today we're moving on to DVDs (remember, this is a lavishly stocked desert island...I love my creature comforts!).

1. The Godfather Trilogy.
Maybe if I watch GFIII over and over again, it will begin to make sense. GFI & II are classics, yet I pick up another nuance with each viewing. And there are lots of extras in the "Making of..." DVD that comes with the set.

2. The James Bond Collection.
Oh, behave! I can never get tired of these (well, maybe the Timothy Dalton ones).

3. The Austin Powers Collection.
Yeah, baby! A must-have companion to the Bonds. Shagadelic!

4. Tommy.
The Who's rock opera, successfully reinvented as a movie, with an all-star cast and, oddly, Keith Moon as Uncle Ernie, but not drumming on the soundtrack (he was in a snit and refused to play, though I do believe he's part of The Pinball Wizard's backing band...on film, anyway). Catch Ann-Margret and Jack Nicholson's first reunion since "Carnal Knowledge," adding some extra undertones to their scene. Oliver Reed sings! Eric Clapton plays! Tina Turner is...Tina Turner.

5. TV Series Collections: AbFab, The Golden Girls, Married: With Children, South Park, Twin Peaks, Las Vegas, Designing Women, The League of Gentlemen, Charlie's Angels, SOAP, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Alias, The Munsters.
Finally, enough time to watch them all!

6. Concerts.
Including Van Halen, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton, Live Aid, Concert for Monserrat, Divas Live, Paul McCartney, The Police, Concert for The Queen's Jubilee, Jeff Buckley, Tribute to Brian Wilson, Queen, Gloria Estefan, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand, Marilyn Manson, Monterey Pop, Simon & Garfunkel, Concert for George (Harrison), and probably a couple more I'm blanking out on. Don't forget, the Island Theater System is kick-ass!

7. Singin' In The Rain.
Possibly the best movie musical of all time. Of course, I'd have to bring its contemporaries -- An American In Paris, Brigadoon, The King and I, The Phantom of the Opera (yes, I know, I can't stand AL-W, but this turned out to be a great movie, in spite of him), My Fair Lady, Viva Las Vegas, Oliver!, Chicago, The Sound of Music, Ray, What's Love Got To Do With It?, and, ahem, Fame.

8. Gangs of New York.
One of Scorsese's best, along with After Hours, Cape Fear and Goodfellas, so we'll bring them all.

9. A bunch of Dumb Teenage Flicks.
Gotta have Private School, Valley Girl, Not Just Another Teen Movie, Cruel Intentions, Class of 1984, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Final Destination, Student Bodies, If Looks Could Kill, Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

10. A bunch of Dumb Adult Flicks.
There's Something About Mary, Jackass, Class Reunion, Animal House, Sour Grapes, Rat Race, Xanadu, Arthur, Arthur II: On The Rocks, Foul Play, Micki & Maude, Overboard, Bird on a Wire.

11. Chick Flicks.
Waiting To Exhale, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Miss Congeniality, Stepmom, Steel Magnolias, My Best Friend's Wedding, Double Jeopardy, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Birdcage, and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (and yes, there is a reason why these last three are on the Chick Flick list).

12. Action Films.
Both Bourne movies, the Lethal Weapon series, Ransom, The Patriot, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Cliffhanger, the Die Hard trilogy, the Mission: Impossible movies, and probably several more that I may add later.

A well-stocked desert island, indeed! Next installment: music.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Powerful Movie, Excellent Cast

Well, I listened to Oprah and saw "Hotel Rwanda" this weekend. It left me feeling physically drawn and mentally weak. The story and the horrors portrayed within are real. This is a true story. Rwanda, Africa, 1994. The Hutus are taking their revenge on the Tutsi tribe, which had been chosen by the Belgians (colonizers of Rwanda) as the ruling tribe, largely due to their superior height, lighter complexions and narrower noses. Yes, they measured noses. When the Belgians left, the Hutus took over and mass murders began. Don Cheadle plays Paul, the manager of a Belgian five-star hotel (owned by Sabena, a major conglomerate in Belgium) in Rwanda. Paul's a smart guy. He saves up favors that he knows he may have to call in one day, gifting generals with expensive Scotch and hoarding Cuban cigars to hand out to other people of importance. Corruption thrives in Rwanda. When the fighting spills over to his part of Rwanda, Paul must bring his Tutsi wife and their children to the hotel for safety, and ends up housing more than 1,000 Tutsis in the hotel complex. He does this even though his first instinct is that family is all that matters. Paul does everything possible to save lives and, when the United Nations military forces (led by Nick Nolte) tell him that none of the superpowers are sending help, takes matters into his own hands. He calls the president of Sabena (an uncredited performance by Jean Reno) and gets assistance by pointing out how bad it will look for Sabena if one of its properties is destroyed and more than 100 employees killed. However, Sabena's influence can only go so far, and Rwanda gets more dangerous by the hour.

I'm not going to tell more of the story, because it's one that should be seen. Don Cheadle (so great in "The Rat Pack," "Boogie Nights," and other films) gives a passionate performance, nominated for an Academy Award. I would be amazed if he beat out Jamie Foxx (whose portrayal of Ray Charles is the favorite, for good reason), but the Oscars have surprised us before. Although I've been rooting for Foxx since seeing "Ray," this would be an upset that I could easily live with.