Shortly after her Broadway one-woman show Minnelli On Minnelli(which, if you’ll recall, I gave a less than favorable review), the great singer Liza Minnelli was diagnosed with viral encephalitis, and told she would probably never walk or speak again, let alone sing or dance. Liza refused to accept this, and after dedicating herself to a regimen of dance and vocal lessons, took the stage barely a year later with the greatest triumph of her later career.
This production, which played first London and then New York, found her in vastly better form than Minnelli On Minnelli. Given the circumstances, her voice is absolutely phenomenal; it doesn’t equal the ecstatic belting of her heyday, but it’s the best she had sounded for quite a while, and she’d certainly never sound as good again.
She offers vintage rendition renditions of her trademark standards “Cabaret”, “Theme from New York, New York”, “But the World Goes Round”, and especially “Maybe This Time”, which gets arguably its most touching performance ever here. Her renditions of “Some People” and “Rose’s Turn” show a triumphant energy that seems to be exulting in her knowledge of her own resurgence.
She also offers a devastating trio of songs about the simple act of crying, and a deeply felt version of “Something Wonderful” supposedly dedicated to her difficult but rewarding relationship with then-husband David Gest. The show’s title-song, a new composition by Kander and Ebb, is first-rate, a defiant announcement of her return with lyrics that are surprisingly honest about the problems she had been suffering (‘I took my bottle of pills/and tossed them away/I emptied the booze/Went back to AA’).
Best of all is a brief but breathtaking performance of her mother’s legendary classic “Over the Rainbow”, a song she had always refused to perform before: she capped it with a heartrending cry of “Thank you, Mama!” The recording for this production was made live, and you can hear that the audiences was in absolutely ecstasies, as well they should be—this was the Liza we all knew and loved, and is easily the highlight of her later career.