Thursday, December 4, 2008

Liza's at the Palace...


By Liza Minnelli & David Zippel. Directed and choreographed by Ron Lewis. The Palace Theater. (CLOSED)

Liza Minnelli's long-overdue return to Broadway for a cabaret concert is hailed by most critics as a kind of holiday second coming. Though all the critics duly note a few undeniable signs of age—and a few of them fixate on them as near deal-breakers—
most are wowed by the diva's stamina and charisma, by Ron Lewis' surehanded staging, and in particular by a lengthy re-creation of a cabaret act by the late Kay Thompson, Liza's godmother and nearly as significant a touchstone for Liza as her birth parents.

Talkin' Broadway A+
(Matthew Murray) So what if your eyes and ears sometimes suggest that this icon is past her prime--when she can control a crowd by twirling a fingernail or fluttering an eyelid, sustain a note with throbbing passion, and squeeze feelings dry, who cares? Directed and choreographed with gold-lamé slickness by Ron Lewis, this show is perhaps the ultimate tribute to ultimate tributes--so elaborate and unapologetic in framing its subject that it borders on shameless...Yet the show never lets you catch your breath long enough to feel manipulated...One cannot imagine 2008 going out with a bigger or more heavenly bang.

Talk Entertainment A+
(Oscar E. Moore) A brilliant blend of concept, execution and star quality...Her heels may be lower, she may have to sit during the first act, she may be out of breath at times, she may have you at the edge of your seat wondering if she will hit those top notes–but she delivers. She is a force of nature.

Variety A
(David Rooney) What makes Minnelli a great entertainer when she’s firing on all cylinders is how hard she works for the audience’s love. And how much she clearly thrives on it. In an age in which so many female concert performers are overproduced automatons, deigning to be worshipped by their fans, Minnelli’s emotional give-and-take makes her a disarming relic...Sure, the voice is frayed and husky, the control wavers, many of the lyrics are slurred and the big belt at times hides behind the orchestra’s ample brass section to disguise the effort. But nobody who would buy a ticket to this show in the first place is going to care a whit. Minnelli’s charisma is undiminished and her vocals still have power, warmth and a startling ability to make every song personal.

NY Post A
(Frank Scheck) Sorry to disappoint all you vultures out there, but she's done it again: Liza's at the Palace...! is the sort of late-career triumph of which show-business mythology is made. Looking and sounding better than she has in years, the 62-year-old delivers a knockout show...Sure, the machinery creaks a little. The voice doesn't have the range or power it once had, and at one point she seemed to nearly collapse after a particularly vigorous dance number. But the visible effort she puts in actually works to her advantage, lending the proceedings a heroic quality that only accentuates the emotional impact of her resurrection.

Theatermania A
(Brian Scott Lipton) True, there are moments during this 2-hour-and-15-minute show in which you might focus on a minor distraction--like will she sustain that last note (possibly not) or who designed those sparkly costumes (there's no program credit; and I'm guessing they're vintage Halston) or, more than once, will she absolutely collapse from lack of breath (luckily, no). However, you'll mostly be kept rapt by the sheer charisma and showmanship that Minnelli brings to the stage.

The Canadian Press A
Despite years of various ailments, infirmities and assorted marital disappointments, Liza Minnelli has sunny star-wattage to spare, a never-say-die attitude that is astonishing to watch...Minnelli's voice has darkened and lowered over the years. Some of the high notes are gone, but she makes up for it with a determined theatricality that propels her across the large Palace stage with surprising ease. She looks sensational, too. A
(Jason Clark) At a fighting trim 62 years old, she’s the same Halston-attired pixie we remember, and yes, she still sounds like this South Park character in terms of diction...But for two hours and 20 minutes, tearing into both her own songbook and that of her beloved godmother Kay Thompson (who also authored the Eloise children’s book series), she lifts all 1,700+ seats in the venue into the rafters, even while sitting...Nobody knows Liza’s camp value better than Liza herself, which is why we can’t help but adore her.

Newsday A-
(Linda Winer) Liza Minnelli is not having a comeback as much as an actual resurrection on Broadway in Liza's at the Palace!, a slick and exuberant time-capsule that opened last night in the theater where both she and her late mother, Judy Garland, have famously lived their ups and downs in public...She doesn't hit all the pitches these days, though she didn't always in the old days, and that wobble is now wide enough to drive a limo through it. But her phrasing is terrific and her enthusiasm, thoroughly endearing.

The Daily News A-
(Joe Dziemianowicz) Minnelli's spectacular holiday happening Liza's at the Palace" finds Liza with a Z fit, funny, surprisingly energetic and in her best voice in ages--though on occasion she does mistake volume for tone..."Liza's at the Palace" is 100% fantastic entertainment.

Philadelphia Inquirer A-
(Howard Shapiro) Minnelli erases any question about her raw power to continue to command a stage and enrapture an audience...Her singing is trademark gutsy, with its stylized delivery, her percussive pronunciation of the s, her stressed t that ends some lyrical lines with its own drumbeat, her interpretation that turns lyrics into little dramas. There's something both fresh and classic about Minnelli.

NY Times B+
(Stephen Holden) From the moment Ms. Minnelli joins forces with a male singing and dancing quartet to resurrect parts of a famous nightclub act [Kay] Thompson created in the late 1940s and early ’50s with the Williams Brothers, the Palace Theater blasts off into orbit. There it remains, deliriously spinning until the end of a 2-hour-20-minute show (with intermission) that leaves the star in a state of breathless exaltation...I would love to report that Ms. Minnelli’s voice and physical agility have been magically restored to their former glory, but those days seem to be gone. On Wednesday night her voice was in tatters...But there were still occasional moments of beautifully focused dramatic singing...Once the show began to soar, though, Ms. Minnelli’s force of will became a triumph of spirit over flesh.

Bloomberg News B+
(Jeremy Gerard) Resplendent and healthy-looking, Minnelli, 62, spent the first act of the 2 1/2-hour show belting and strutting through familiar territory. This included the Kander-Ebb songs that made her famous, beginning with the movie “Cabaret.” The highlight was an affecting “My Own Best Friend” (a song cut from the film version of “Chicago”). The performance was all the more remarkable for the two hip replacements and knee surgeries Minnelli has undergone since her last concert appearance, six years and one very public divorce ago. Something far more extraordinary unfolded in the second half, devoted to conjuring the spirit of her godmother, Kay Thompson.

Backstage B+
(David Sheward) This entertaining show displays the second-generation star in fine (if not always perfect) voice and shape. You can see she's had some hard knocks but, damn it, she's still here—and she's got what it takes...An amiable balance of pizzazz and sentiment.

Curtain Up B
(Simon Saltzman) On opening night, Minnelli's energy level was visibly taxed (let alone her now wobbly vibrato) to the point of exhaustion. There were too many moments during the show when Minnelli tried to make light of her being seriously out-of-breath...There is an exhilarating give-and-take element to Minnelli's act that makes an audience embrace her every gesture, movement, note, and word (distinguishable or not). Still sporting her signature gamin haircut, she looks terrific and trim.

AM New York B-
(Matt Windman) In her new show, is Liza the toast or the train wreck of Broadway? She’s kind of both...Act One was pretty problematic. In between forced, mostly spoke-through performances of “Maybe This Time” and “Cabaret,” Liza appeared like a marionette on strings on the verge of falling down. In between songs, she panted desperately for breath and her hands shook. We couldn’t understand a single lyric she uttered in any song. But Act Two was fantastic.

Time Out NY C+
(Adam Feldman) The bewitching, bewildering and besequined Minnelli is a bona fide icon, and her new show finds her in better health, both physically and vocally, than she has enjoyed in at least a decade...Yet the first two hours of Minnelli’s show, including a long tribute to the beloved Kay Thompson, are strangely lackluster—capable, well-rehearsed and unmagical. Most of the show is not like watching a car crash, as some have feared; it is more like watching traffic. Then—gloriously—comes the exclamation point.

New Yorker D
(John Lahr) More like a rally than a recital. Minnelli has jazz in her voice but not in her soul. She is all chutzpah and calculation. Although she has vast amounts of energy and an overwhelming desire to please, she has, strange to say, very little sense of fun. Instead of taking you on a journey with her renditions, she continually brings you back to her...Minnelli reminds me of a gas fire: she looks good, she gives off a kind of heat, but she’s not real. Masquerade, not meaning, is her forte...There is vitality but no joy, technique but no truth. If you stand for that, you’ll stand for anything.

Talkin' Broadway A+ 14; Talk Entertainment A+ 14; Variety A 13; NY Post A 13; Theatermania A 13; Canadian Press A 13; A 13; Newsday A- 12; Daily News A- 12; Philadelphia Inquirer A- 12; NY Times B+ 11; Bloomberg News B+ 11; Backstage B+ 11; Curtain Up B 10; AM New York B- 9; Time Out NY C+ 8; New Yorker D 4; TOTAL: 193/17=11.35 (B+)

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