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Minelli on Minnelli

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When Liza Minnelli sang in the movie Cabaret about a friend who died "of too much pills and liquor," audiences inescapably heard the line as a reference to her mother, Judy Garland--and feared the same fate would befall the daughter Garland had with film director Vincente Minnelli. But Liza, now 53, proved herself a victor, not a victim. In this revue of songs from her father's movies, she celebrates not only her parents' legacy but her own survival. Directed by Cabaret lyricist Fred Ebb and originally performed last Christmastime at New York's Palace Theatre (site of Garland's triumphant 1951 Broadway concerts), Minnelli on Minnelli features a slew of classic tunes, many of them restyled to suit the evening's autobiographical context and to exhibit the maturity and emotional control that now characterize Minnelli's once overeager singing. (The smashing musical arrangements are by Marvin Hamlisch and Billy Stritch.) She imparts a fierce power to the climactic couplet of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" ("Some day soon, we all will be together if the fates allow / Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow"), and her slow, sultry reading of the normally bouncy "I Got Rhythm" uncovers a smoldering subtext the Gershwins may never have known was there. Ebb gives "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore," from Gigi, a new set of lyrics confronting the drug and weight problems that plagued Minnelli and her mom: "How sweet to eat food not caring that / Someone will say, 'My God, she's fat!'" And in the show's climax Minnelli belts out Garland's signature "Trolley Song," from Meet Me in St. Louis, as a duet with her mother's on-screen image. (Though act one has a standard variety-show format, complete with a quartet of chorus boys, act two features Minnelli alone except for clips from such movies as Madame Bovary, The Bad and the Beautiful, An American in Paris, and The Band Wagon.) The damage Minnelli's voice has suffered over the years is all too apparent in her wobbly vibrato, limited range, and slushy sibilants, but her tattered technique is overshadowed by her often thrilling phrasing, her warm yet dramatic stage presence, and her sheer gutsy pride in having disproved the axiom about American lives having no second act. Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe, Chicago, 312-977-1701 or 312-902-1500. Opens Wednesday, May 3, 7:30 PM. Through May 13: Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sunday, May 7, 2 PM. $32-$127. Note: The show on Wednesday, May 10, is sign interpreted; call 312-977-1701 for information.

--Albert Williams

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joan Marcus.

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