Review: Liza at the Hilbert

January 13, 2011
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I honestly don't know how much of Liza Minnelli's act is an act.

At Wednesday's concert, the performing dynamo entered to a "New York, New York" vamp and launched into "Alexander's Ragtime Band" with a fearlessness that only comes with years on the stage. She's a one-of-a-kind entertainer whose batteries seem to be charged in front of a live audience, treating the Hilbert Circle Theatre crowd like it was a gang of guests in her living room. Warm and confident, she even stopped the orchestra after a few missed vocal notes ( "I can do that better, for crissakes," she said) gave herself a redo, nailed it, and took the passionate audience even deeper into the palm of her hand.

If this was a calculated move, it worked beautifully.

The stopping-her-own-show move was consistent with the just-us-folks nature of her set. "Oh, my darlings, thank you for coming," she said, before delivering a deft blend of  "Here, I'll Stay" and "Our Love is Here to Stay." She brought back her Roxy Hart from B'way's "Chicago" to both act and sing "My Own Best Friend" and offered a version of "Maybe This Time" that took on even richer connotations with Minnelli decades past the tune's "Cabaret" origins.

Of course, she sang the title song from "Cabaret," and knew that she’d get a thunderous reaction with just the right pause after the "too much pills and liquor" line. And the defiant climax of the song still sends chills, even after the live-fast-die-young of "When I go/ I'm going like Elsie" was changed to the survivalist "I'm not going like Elsie."

Even after recent illness and knee surgery, she remained a whirligig, "I gotta sit down," she said at one point, dragging a director's chair across the stage. But she spent little time in it.

Her set followed a short first act, featuring the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in movie music mode. It seemed to take a little while for the ISO to get in the spirit of things, but that was found once the fingers started snapping to the opening of a big, brassy "Hey, Big Spender." The ISO's role in the second half was largely supportive, with Minnelli's own combo taking on much of the musical chores.

Longtime Minnelli pianist Billy Stritch was in good voice on an "I Cant' Give You Anything But Love" duet. Minnelli showed her seductive side in the Peggy Lee tune "He's a Tramp." And a sweet piano-bench delivery of "Every Time We Say Goodbye" in which the lighting can't take sole credit for Minnelli seeming to drop 40 years. 

But the highlight for me was "The World Goes 'Round," a great Kander and Ebb tune from the movie "New York, New York." No, she didn't hit the notes like she did in in the film version (See that stunning performance here), but there's more to an entertainer than that. Yes, she modified songs to fit her more limited range and, yes, she allowed her trumpet player and other musicians to sometimes fill in to mask the sound she couldn't make. But as a fan of Great American Songbook and Broadway music, I've listened to lots of performers who have the technique and the vocal chops but not the special something that makes a singer a star.

We shall not see the likes of Liza again anytime soon. Here's hoping she'll return.

Your thoughts?

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  • Liza's the best
    Of course there are better singers than Liza technically, but none can connect with an audience as well as this legendary lady can. Liza involves you, almost pleads to you. There are no strangers with her. I am attempting to explain her magical star qualities but rest assured, she's got them all in spades. We're not likely to witness anything close to this great talent anytime soon. She's the best stage performer of our time, her mother excluded of course.
  • She was great.
    I thought she was great. Carmel ought to book her into the Palladium. She's a crowd pleaser. We braved the cold and went out even though we kind of wanted to stay in. But that's been the story lately in snowy Indianapolis. We froze on our way into the stadium to watch a couple of Colts games. We froze on our way in to see Wicked at the Murat. And we froze for Liza. But she really delivered. I love the Circle Theatre. And I love our Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. I go to the opening gala every year and try to support them by attending as many performances as I can. But I think everyone really enjoyed the Liza show; I saw a lot of happy faces. The mood was especially festive in the lobby and bar; everybody was in happy Liza mode; they were singing in the parking garage on the way out. That garage is where all the gossip happens; waiting for the elevator in the parking garage. That's when you hear whether they liked a show or not. Last season I got kissed on the cheek in the parking garage elevator by Tomisue Hilbert, who thought that I was with Maestro Leppard. I wasn't. But I got randomly kissed as the Hilberts and the Maestro Leppard's group and everybody else were all trying to deal with the elevator and introductions and such. Anyway. Liza pleased the elevator crowd; everybody loved her and I think we'd love to have her back. It looked like a full house.
  • not planned
    Ha, i guarantee that "I can do that better for christ sake" was not planned! Ha, she didnt hit the note, but thats one thing with Liza.... She will make the joke first... shes fantastic like that. That was most def a quick off the top of her head thing that just so happend to happen. If she could have hit the note the first time, she would have! :) FANTASTIC SHOW!!!!!!
  • She is the real deal
    I have seen Liza in concert twice before and no one belts a ballad like Liza with a Z! Wish we could get her back once a year. Despite all her mom's troubles, she taught Liza how to entertain.
  • Fabulous!
    I saw Liza 37 years ago when she played the Indiana State Fair, she did her "Liza with a Z" show then. I was enamored from that moment, and Wednesday's concert at the Hilbert only solidified my admiration for her. What a great performance!

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