With all her recent misadventures, it's hard to remember that Liza Minelli was once a startlingly impressive stage performer, following in her mother's footsteps (Judy Garland, for those that haven't been paying attention). This made for TV concert from 1972 shines the spotlight on Liza at her peak, with songs by Kander & Ebb and choreography by Bob Fosse. Forget everything else; all you need to know and remember about Liza Minelli is right here.
The DVD Holy Grail for Liza Minnelli fans finally surfaces after 30-some years: Liza with a "Z"
, a splashy TV special from 1972. And wow, is it ever a product of its era. Minnelli and director-choreographer Bob Fosse were at the top of their popularity in 1972, having just made Cabaret
, the blockbuster musical for which both won Oscars. Liza with a "Z"
places the still-coltish Minnelli on the stage of the Lyceum Theater, in a one-night-only performance covered by Fosse's eight cameras. Songs by Cabaret
composers John Kander and Fred Ebb provide a spine for the show, including a breathless rendition of "Ring Them Bells" and the tongue-twisting "Say Liza (Liza with a 'Z')," a goofball number that sounds more like one of Danny Kaye's patter songs than a tune for Liza Minnelli.
Liza treats each song as an emotional Mount Everest, never holding back a thing, and the result is a psychodrama played out in the klieg lights. (The outrageous costumes by Halston don't hold back a thing, either; Studio 54, here we come!) Memories of the all-or-nothing style of her mother, Judy Garland, are already heavy in the air by the time Minnelli reaches "My Mammy," and workouts on "God Bless the Child" and "Son of a Preacher Man" confirm the singer's approach.
As for Fosse's choreography, there are signature moves aplenty--his dancing so frequently suggested a choreographer lusting for actual sex to break out on stage. "Bye Bye Blackbird" gives Minnelli and her backup dancers a chance to stretch out in an echt-Fosse feast of bowler hats and white gloves. The bell-and-booty shaking in "Ring Them Bells" and the loony tuxedo-clad cowpokes in "I Gotcha" hint that Fosse was in the midst of a manic phase. Speaking of which, Minnelli tackling Joe Tex's "I Gotcha" is one of those jaw-dropping mismatches that she salvages only through dint of daft commitment. No quarreling with the Cabaret medley; say want you want about Liza, she owns those songs. Minnelli and Fosse won Emmys for the show. The restoration of the original materials looks about as good as can be expected, with the spirit of a glitzy seventies TV variety special quite intact. --Robert Horton