Liza & Alan at Town Hall

Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street
One Night Only March 13, 2013 @ 8pm [2nd night added by popular demand]

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Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee

  • [Liza after the first energetic duo numbers, turning the stage over to Alan for a bit with a laugh.] “I have to go breathe for a while.”
  • [Alan on a trial run / workshop version of this show last summer] “Probably the only time a show from Fire Island has transferred to Broadway. Liza coming to Fire Island. Can you imagine. It was like a Papal visit.”
  • [Alan in a story about a young man who greeted him with a version of “my mom loves you”] “Let’s look at that sentence and see which part of it pisses me off.”

LIZA & ALAN TOWN HALL SHOW ADDED POSTERWit and charm and camaraderie and wild embraces. From performer to performer, from band members to their stars, between two music directors gracefully sharing the stage and on occasion a single piano bench, and continually and enthusiastically through two plus hours of intermission-less joy between a loving audience and two veterans who are clearly and demonstrably intimate friends. Minnelli often speaks in interviews of regular sing-around-the-piano soirees at her home with pals, and this feels like that kind of event with the added swelling wonder of a fabulous band (bass to cello to drums to horns) that really swings. The joy is in the performances, and these performers, and their history alone and together. And at its best “it’s good isn’t it great isn’t it grand isn’t it swell isn’t it fun.” Yes.

The band led by Billy Stritch and Lance Horne lights into the first several minutes of the original Broadway overture for Kander and Ebb’s CHICAGO, and Liza and Alan enter from opposite edges of the stage to bring the crowd to their feet for the first of many standing ovations this emotional evening. The show ends with a set of tunes from Kander and Ebb’s CABARET, the show that rocketed both performers to new heights in their careers — Liza as Sally Bowles in the 1972 film version of the 1966 Broadway original, and Alan in the 1998 Broadway revival in the MC role that Joel Grey originally created on stage and film. John Kander is in attendance tonight, to the delight of the entire audience, and is recognized from the stage by Liza a few times as the evening proceeds — “I was invented by Kander and Ebb,” she says without hyperbole. And throughout we cheer and sigh and sometimes wonder what they were thinking with a particular song choice and in the end, who cares? This is their party, and we are happy to be here.

Our worlds this evening bend and stretch across our stars’ histories in song, in life, in inspirations. Liza and Alan begin with “Nowadays” then segue into “Class”, both from CHICAGO. “You can like the life you’re living, you can live the life you like” and in this world, this evening, we do. Alan gives Liza an extended break while he takes the stage himself for a number of tunes ranging from new to me to long beloved Sondheim — “Losing My Mind.” This section of the evening shows us most powerfully what a delicious raconteur Cumming can be. He brings the house down with several stories on himself, and dishy observations of the world around him.

Liza returns to provide a big bawdy “Theme from New York, New York” to start out her solo section of the enterprise, one of the primary moments when I wonder “what was she thinking” (her voice is raspy and rough and without top notes this evening) then conclude “she can do whatever she wants to do.” That tune to the side, she proceeds to play right into the core of what she does best (for this fan) at this stage of her career and experience — acting songs with lovely moments caressed by her lower singing register. “Teach Me Tonight” enchants, and features delightful Billy Stritch piano glissandos.  And a step into 1972’s “Liza With A Z”‘s title tune is a lovely surprise, followed a few tunes later by a rendition of “Ring Dem Bells” performed in glittery eyeglass frames — watching the 67-year-old Liza play with the lyrics written for her by her songwriting stalwarts Kander and Ebb is a goofy delight.

Liza’s seated version of Aznavour’s “What Makes a Man a Man” (her ankle was recently injured) suggests to me, not that she’s asking, that curtailing her outsized energy, curbing the desires for the big physical gesture that pulls her to attempt the big notes that perhaps aren’t her strength any more and telling the stories of layered three act songs are what she is meant to do now. This tune and performance alone are worth the price of admission.

Among other treats of the evening are two tunes performed by our CABARET veterans in a successful and unexpected constellation. Liza provides a boffo performance of “Wilkommen” usually performed by the MC — we are welcomed by Liza herself to leave our troubles outside. And Alan then delivers a nuanced and funny performance of “Mein Herr” written for Sally Bowles, the Kit Kat Klub chanteuse.

After we sing birthday wishes to Ms. Minnelli (her 67th birthday was the day before) and we enjoy one final duet and impromptu on-stage musical interlude waltz by Liza and Alan to “Our Love is Here to Stay” and several curtain calls are made, we bid farewell. Alan tells us early in the show of Liza’s first backstage visit to him after view his performance in CABARET and telling him “I want to be your friend forever.” We feel this. We share this for both of them. Pleasure, delight, joy.

© Martha Wade Steketee (March 14, 2013)

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