Liza Minnelli’s Confessions on Staten Island
By Vinny Galeno
Liza Minnelli returned to the concert stage Saturday night at the St. George Theater in Staten Island, NY, and the crowd that came out for her was as electrifying as the lady herself. She was given an ovation for every song she sang, when merely speaking seemed to be an achievement for her, following a bout of bronchial pneumonia. It has been said before, particularly of her most recent Broadway success, Liza’s at The Palace that at this point in her career, as fragile and whispery as she has become, Liza’s triumph seems to be that she finishes the show at all. But her magnetism, her presence, and her stagecraft are untouchable, and as she learned from the best, she knows every trick.
Opening with “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” she got “Cabaret” and other show-music out of the way fairly early, and with good reason. An awkward moment came at the end of “My Own Best Friend” (which she sang in the original 1975 production of Chicago, as Gwen Verdon’s replacement), when she tried to find her key with unfortunate results, BUT…acted her way out of it. “Come on, Roxie!” she said, in character as Roxie Hart, then hit her note to finish the song. Who else could possibly get away with that, and then bring the audience to their feet?
She was relaxed and conversational, chatty and playful, and from the orchestra looked somewhat fresher than her recent television appearances. She grabbed a chair and took a load-off about every other song, and even that got applause after a while. She was sporting black velvety pants, and a glittery, black, over-sized blouse (which looked very much like something from her QVC line). The make-up and hair-helmet, iconically hers, did not stand alone before this audience, however. A Staten Island native myself, I was sitting in a sea of middle-aged Italian-American women who had copied Liza Minnelli’s hair and make-up circa 1987, and changed little since. Somehow this made the experience of the real-deal before us even more religious.
For the most part, the show was comprised of standards from her new album, Confessions. This was the revelation, especially after the precarious vocals early on. The jazzy, bluesy sound of these Confessions songs, new to her repetoire, freed her voice from the limitations of the screaming numbers, and she was so…good, that you almost felt bad for wanting her to sing the usual stuff. This new style of hers, jazz phrasing instead of belting, gave the performance an intimate subtlety, impressive coming from Liza, who is so associated with showbiz excess. Songs included: “Our Love Is Here To Stay,” “You Fascinate Me So,” Peggy Lee’s “He’s A Tramp,” and two songs Judy herself (!) recorded, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You,” which was a personal favorite.
Two of her usual numbers shone with this earthy delivery: “Maybe This Time” (she told the whole story, how it was on her first album in 1964 and later stuck into the film version of Cabaret at her request), and from Scorcese’s New York, New York, “But The World Goes ‘Round,” which she NAILED, and has clearly become her signature tune. Lyrics are her fetish, as she admits, and every song on her list is poetry, but watching her sing these words by Fred Ebb was electrifying: “Sometimes your dreams get busted in pieces but that doesn’t matter at all. Take it from me, there’s still gonna be a summer, a winter, a spring and a fall.” All of the songs are a dramatic story, and many of them are about delirious determination. There’s something about Liza the Legend singing such numbers that makes them completely believable.
Liza was rather heavy handed about her last song, and rightfully so. She said she is most grateful for the songs that have been written originally for her, but of all the songs written for her, this is her favorite…that was written for her: “(Theme From) New York, New York.” Got that?
As usual, the cult ritual ended with the audience of devotees on their feet, rushing the stage and cheering until the lights came up. After the show, in the crush of fans lining up for a possible signature, handshake, or loose sequin, a woman clutching her 1977 program from The Act summed up the collective sentiment of the audience, in the purest of Staten Island gutter slang: “She could read the fuckin’ PHONEBOOK, and I’d pay for it, are you kiddin’?!”