Liza with a Z is adored at Davies Hall
by David-Elijah Nahmod
Liza Minnelli brought her new show Simply Liza to Davies Symphony Hall on Friday, March 28. As the title suggests, it was a simple evening with Liza, center stage, singing and bantering for a 90-minute set. Backed by a relatively small jazz band, Simply Liza offered an intimate encounter with a legend.
Liza is now older and has made no secret of her health issues. This wasn't the accomplished singer/dancer who dazzled the world with her award-winning turns in Cabaret and Liza with a Z (both 1972). This was a more sedate Liza, giving the type of show she might perform in a smaller club. It was still magic.
She appeared at times to be having trouble walking – she's endured numerous surgeries due to dance-related injuries. Her voice is deeper than it had been during her heyday. Yet there remains in that voice an enormous emotional depth that had the sold-out crowd repeatedly jumping to its feet and cheering.
At one point, longtime musical director Billy Stritch, who performed at a huge grand piano, had to help Liza into her tall director's chair. "I'm going to stay in this chair because it's comfortable," Liza said. The audience applauded, letting Liza know that it was OK. She was loved.
Sitting in that chair, she sang the iconic title tunes to Cabaret and Liza with a Z, occasionally kicking her right leg forward as though she were dancing. She hit every emotional note beautifully.
The longtime gay icon spoke of her love for the great French singer/songwriter Charles Aznavour. Her heartfelt rendition of Aznavour's "What Makes a Man," a ballad about a drag queen who questions society's gender norms, was a standout that saw several audience members running to the stage with flowers in hand.
A personal friend of Liza's sat in the audience that night. She acknowledged him from the stage, then performed a plaintive "I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby," one of the songs immortalized by her mom, Judy Garland. She also sang a lovely "Our Love Is Here to Stay," which Mom's friend Gene Kelly first sang in the 1951 film An American in Paris.
It was a quiet and simple show, but it had a lot of heart, and the audience loved it.