Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily.
Liza with a “Z” recreated
LIZA WITH A “Z”, as any Liza Minnelli fan knows, is not just a spelling instruction for her name, but also the name of the now-legendary Emmy-Award winning 1972 television concert that director/choreographer Bob Fosse and songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb made with her specifically to showcase her talents. It was the same year that she also starred in their film version of the stage hit CABARET, which won multiple Oscars, including for Minnelli herself. She was just 26, and at the height of her powers.
Last night, for one night only, Christina Bianco — another firebrand native New Yorker, now resident in the UK — recreated the concert live on stage at the Clapham Grand, and as a lifelong fan of Minnelli, I found myself blissing out.
A few months ago, I saw Bianco starring in a regional tour of Jim Cartwright’s THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE, in which she summonsed Minnelli’s mother Judy Garland amongst many others; she has the vocal chops — and the star quality — to conjure exactly what made Minnelli the greatest live performer of my lifetime. And half a century on from the release of the original album of that concert — one that gets regular play by me to this day — Liza is back with us at the age of 26 in all her blazing glory.
It reminded me a bit of Rufus Wainwright’s astonishing 2007 live show, Rufus! Rufus! Rufus! Does Judy! Judy! Judy!, in which Wainwright recreated the 1961 Judy Garland concert at Carnegie Hall, song-by-song. As someone who wasn’t personal witness to either Minnelli or Garland’s original concerts, this is truly the next best thing — and I’m proud to say I went to both.
Like Wainwright, Bianco is clearly a devoted, passionate fan; and she provides not just a fierce demonstration of sheer talent in its own right, but also represents one wonderful artist acknowledging the impact of another on her life.
She was joined by fellow fan Sooz Kempner, who performed a thrilling “Bye Bye Blackbird” with a set of terrific Fosse-esque dancers, and a duet from CHICAGO (in which Minnelli famously stepped into the original Broadway run of, to fill in for an indisposed Gwen Verdon) which gave us a double dose of Liza!
Accompanied by the combined musical forces of the London Big Gay Band, this show truly deserves another life. David Allwood choreographed a set of six dancers — three boys, three girls — in a sizzling tribute to Fosse.
This show truly deserves another life. Perhaps a night at the London Palladium would be the ideal location — the London venue where I first saw Minnelli live myself in the early 80s, and left an indelible mark on me. I saw her many times more in the years that followed — including at the Royal Albert Hall more than once, Radio CIty Music Hall and Broadway’s Palace Theatre. Liza, now 76, is still with us, but her mobility is not what it is; last night she was back in all her considerable glory.
In the late 90s and early noughties, I was involved in a weekly New York theatre magazine called InTheater, and Minnelli guest edited one issue; she came to visit the office one day, and I was luckily in town at the time (pictured below).
Minnelli has given me many happy memories, and now Bianco and crew have given me another.
The ridiculous, chaotic circus of the Tory party
I went into Clapham Grand with Boris Johnson and his followers claiming they’d reached the threshold of 100 votes from MPs to go forward in today’s leadership election to become Prime Minister; but by the time I came out, he’d withdrawn from the race, claiming he could have been fre-installed in Downing Street (and reunited with his expensive wallpaper) by Friday, for the sake of national unity. Yeah, right; the man is an inveterate disruptor and serial liar, and there is no proof that he had managed the level of support required.
But we are at least now being spared this chapter of Tory psychodrama, amidst what Keir Starmer has called “the ridiculous, chaotic circus” of their leadership contest; as a musician friend tweeted yesterday,
As I said last week, “Who truly needs the theatre right now, given how much drama the House of Commons is providing on an hourly basis?”
OPENINGS IN LONDON, ON BROADWAY AND BEYOND
My regularly updated feature of openings in London, on Broadway and selected regional theatres is here: https://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-october-24/
A slow week in London sees just the opening of the much-awaited Elton John and Jake Spears scored musical TAMMY FAYE, with a book by playwright James Graham, at the Almeida on Wednesday. Regionally, Theatr Clwyd and Chichester Festival Theatre’s co-production of THE FAMOUS FIVE moves from Wales to West Sussex, opening officially in Chichester tomorrow.
I’ll be covering both here, in my next newsletter on Thursday.
SEE YOU ON THURSDAY
I’ll be back here next on Thursday. If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends)