I'm on the phone with Liza Minnelli, and all that involves. She's telling me she'll be singing mostly her signature tunes in her Seattle show, but that she'll also throw in a few surprises.
To even get to this point, I've had to promise her people not to discuss alcohol, rehab, or The Ex-Husband That Dare Not Speak His Name. I've also had to allow her manager, Danny, to listen in on the conversation from his mobile phone to ensure that I'll adhere to those promises. I'm not thrilled with the ground rules, though I agree to them. Come on—it's Liza Minnelli. I'm not gay enough to have all her albums, but I am certainly gay enough to want to start an article with "I'm on the phone with Liza Minnelli."
She sounds exactly like you think she does—warm, weird, gushing, grand, punctuating her sentences with random bursts of happy laughter and responding to every question with an emphatic sincerity that is in some strange way both less real and more fabulously genuine than the way you or I talk. Danny, meanwhile, has sworn to be "a fly on the wall" during the interview. Quickly, it becomes obvious that the fly he's referring to is Jeff Goldblum in the Cronenberg film. Danny carefully hovers for the length of the brief, cheerfully uneventful conversation, either in fear for his life, in fear for hers, or maybe, some complex combination of the two:
Seattle Weekly: So, is this a mini-tour?
Liza Minnelli: Yeah, we're playing—how many dates, Danny?
Danny: There's a total of seven dates right now.
Minnelli: I haven't been out West for a while, and I wanted to come back and do that.
Danny: Yes, exactly.
To be honest, I'm surprised to hear Liza is even coming. Everybody knows she's been through a lot of late; hell, "been through a lot" has been her lot throughout four decades of giving her all. Performers are a dime a dozen now, but what they do doesn't involve the same kind of sweat it did back when Liza was learning her game, when people made their whole lives about entertaining, whole lives that seemed outrageously larger than the ones the rest of us were living—a bit of engaging fantasy that reality TV has pummeled into oblivion. You're supposed to be jaded and ironic now when you talk about such people. But ladies like Liza have all my respect for what must be exhausting self-awareness.
I wonder out loud if she ever feels like, Hell, I've had it—I don't want to do this anymore.
She sounds honestly horrified.
"No!" she gasps, also a bit amused at the absurdity of such an idea. "No, I've never felt that in my life! The music is such fun, and the acting within the music—and the rapport with an audience. It's . . . an art, sort of. I don't mean to sound stuck-up, but it's a craft I learned when I was 14, 15, 16, and . . . how can I explain it? It's just what I do." She roars with laughter.
Danny interjects. "It's what you do, and it's what you do fabulously!"
"Thank you," Liza responds demurely.
Anyway. It must be odd, I say, to be renowned as a live entertainer in an age when people can get their 15 minutes of fame on Survivor.
"Well, if that's true, I've had the longest 15 minutes in the world, I'll tell ya!" she hoots.
But doesn't she worry about keeping up with the all changes in the industry?
"I don't, really, no," she says. "But, you know, when you think about it, I'm a performing artist who's never had a hit record. There aren't any others. People have a hit record, then they go out and perform. I'm an entertainer."
What has she noticed that's different now about entertainment?
"I think it's braver now," she says. "I think you can do things and say things onstage, and sing songs about things, that you couldn't [before]. But, you know, I've always just done it the way I've always done it, which is, I find the song, I find the character. I write a little background for her: What kind of clothes does she wear? What is her kitchen like? Does she have decals on the fridge? And it's very detailed so that I totally inhabit the character."
Is there anything she'd like to do that she hasn't done yet?
"Take a nap!" she howls.
"Isn't that the truth?!" agrees Danny. "Take a long nap! We all want to take a nap!"
She rather charmingly admits that she's spent her entire career wondering if she was ever going to get hired again.
"Really?" I say. "What did you think after winning the Oscar for Cabaret?"
"I thought, 'This is never gonna happen again,'" she swears, the laughter returning. "But you have humor about it. You have to."
Speaking of which, it has to be weird constantly seeing herself impersonated in pop culture—there's even someone playing her right now on Broadway in the campy Hugh Jackman musical The Boy From Oz.
"I haven't seen any of it," she insists.
Well, what does she think about it?
A brief pause.
"I think I should be getting paid!" she hollers, roaring again.
"Good for you!" cries Danny.
Then they're both off the phone and Liza, I presume, heads back out into the world to do what she does—fabulously.
Liza Minnelli plays Pier 62/63 at 7 p.m. Fri., Aug. 20. $55.