Minnelli a bit unsteady as she goes

Concert Review

October 29, 2007|By Mike Giuliano | Mike Giuliano,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It was "Liza with a Z," but without 34 pounds, at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on Saturday night. Liza Minnelli announced the weight loss during an occasionally wobbly performance showcasing her determination to overcome her problems with health and husbands.

Minnelli looked thinner than she has in decades. Her face is no longer puffy and, if anything, verges on gaunt. One costume showed off slender legs, and a shimmering black blouse exposing one shoulder cast the 61-year-old Broadway baby in a rather sexy light.

Her balance was a concern throughout the show. Minnelli's movement was unsteady, and she joked about needing the director's chair she sat in for a few numbers. Truth be told, her hands did more dancing than her feet. Hip replacement surgery will do that to you.

During her autobiographical patter, Minnelli often seemed out of breath. The situation affected her breath control during many songs, but she also had enough lung power to get through them.

"I gotta catch my breath," Minnelli said at one point during the 75-minute show, whose brevity was matched by an eagerness to deliver the goods.

The delivery of her trademark tune, "New York, New York," did not pack the same knockout punch of her 1970s razzle-dazzle heyday, but it certainly was more confident than a 1998 Kennedy Center performance in which she reached for high notes and produced so little sound that she looked like Marcel Marceau doing Minnelli. She's been better, but goodness knows she's been worse.

By local standards, the Meyerhoff offered an opportunity to see the showbiz legend reasonably up close and personal. Those who saw her at the then-Baltimore Arena in 1993 will remember that even her outsized talent was swallowed up by that cavernous space.

When Minnelli took the Meyerhoff audience into her confidence Saturday night and told stories about her mother, Judy Garland, and her father, film director Vincente Minnelli, it was the sort of trip down memory lane that her devoted fans relish.

The Meyerhoff obviously is a rather large living room, and the seemingly spontaneous confessions have been confessed before, but that doesn't detract from the emotional appeal of a performer who seems to need us as much as we need her.

The concert got off to an unpromising start. The 12-piece orchestra raced through the opening songs with so much muscle and speed that it threatened to overwhelm the star vocalist. At this stage in her career, Minnelli is not going to be heard above a surging band, so it was a relief when the orchestra eventually settled down.

When the musicians gently supported her in "Our Love Is Here to Stay," it allowed us to enjoy a voice that still knows how to take an audience on an emotional journey. As this stretch of the concert showed, Minnelli truly possesses the ability to tell a story in song.

Indeed, her lines initially may be spoken, then softly sung and finally shouted with all the ferocity of the MGM lion logo.

In the second half of the concert, a benefit for the Chimes School, Minnelli paid tribute to her godmother, Kay Thompson, a vocal arranger best known as the author of the Eloise children's books. This musical material will be featured in a TV special and CD.

If Minnelli seemed particularly energized during this segment, it's partly because of the obvious pleasure she takes in conceiving new stage routines. Also perking things up was the presence of four male singers and dancers, who supported her as she gingerly did a few dance steps.

She clearly enjoyed the choreography in such numbers as "I Love a Violin," and her rapport with the chorus engendered a relaxed mood on stage. Have fun, Liza, but just don't marry any of them.

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