Liza (still with a Z) on making that show

March 26, 2006|By NEWSDAY

In terms of entertainment icons, interviewing Liza Minnelli is like interviewing Frank Sinatra, only without the risk of getting punched.

The singer-dancer-actress is one of the very few people to have won the grand slam of the Oscar, Tony, Emmy and Grammy awards. Even Seabiscuit only had to win a Triple Crown.

With her landmark 1972 TV concert, Liza With a Z, resurrected and restored for a Showtime run, and for DVD, Minnelli sits in an Upper East Side hotel being so down to earth she might as well be chatting in the bleachers at a softball game.

Dressed for comfort, telling stories animatedly, chain-smoking unabashedly and having herself a grand ol' time, Minnelli, 60 - daughter of legendary performer Judy Garland and director-producer Vincente Minnelli - seems like the most charming buddy you could have.

Liza With a Z was a collaboration of producer-director Bob Fosse, producer-lyricist Fred Ebb, composer John Kander and, early in their careers, young fashion designer Halston, young "music coordinator" Marvin Hamlisch, and young future music-producer-star Phil Ramone, credited for "audio design."

Shot documentary-style on 16 mm film at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre on May 31, 1972, it had its premiere on NBC the following Sept. 10 and won multiple Emmys.

In 2000, Minnelli, who owns the rights to the show, had restoration expert Michael M. Arick begin the long process of sprucing it up and remastering its original mono audio for stereo and Surround Sound.

She spoke about it - seemingly in stereo and Surround Sound herself - with freelance writer Frank Lovece.

So the NBC censor didn't want you to wear that red micro-minidress that night? Oh, it wasn't only that! It was the opening white pantsuit, which is cut down to here! (Points to her waist.)

They were objecting to the fact that there was not a bra within 40 miles of me! ... The day of the show, a lady from Standards & Practices ... comes in, sees my outfit and says, "Wait a minute. She can't wear these costumes. This is impossible, you cannot wear ..."

And I'm standing here stunned, like "Wha, wha, whatamIgonnawear?"

Fred Ebb, Bob Fosse and Halston said to this lady, "Come with us," and they went into a room. ... And finally this lady comes out, and she looked different.

Her shoulders were lowered, she just looked different. And I said, "Ma'am, am I gonna be able to wear my costumes?"

And she didn't look at me. But she said [speaks just above a whisper] "Yes. [Long pause.] It's fashion."

They buffaloed her! They got her! I don't know how they did it, but they talked her into it!

And I went on. It's funny that the sponsor was the sewing-machine company Singer, and there's the opening title: "Singer presents" - a singer! [Laughs uproariously.] It's hard to sing and dance at the same time, since you have to breathe differently with each. In the dance numbers, where you don't hold a microphone, I imagine you had to go back afterward and lay in new vocals for those songs? No, I had a body mic on. You had a wireless body mic in 1972? Yes. Yeah. Phil Ramone was brilliant, and he did the sound. A radio mic has a microphone and a cable and a small box, right? And that was hidden in [the small of] my back, and Phil somehow figured out how to make [the transmitter] not so big. What was hard was to hide it in that red dress. That little red dress was very tight on you. Tell me about it! [The transmitter] was in my stockings, in the back. I had it on through the whole show, but it was only turned on for the first dance set. And they turned it off when I sang live. Is life really a cabaret, old chum? So how is life a cabaret? It's unexpected.

Sometimes you go to a cabaret and you don't know what you're gonna get. Sometimes you see wonderful things and sometimes you see awful.

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