Liza with a "Z"
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Concert performance recorded live at New York's Lyceum Theater in 1972.
The DVD Holy Grail for Liza Minnelli fans finally surfaces after 30-some years: Liza with a "Z", a splashy TV special from 1972. And wow, is it ever a product of its era. Minnelli and director-choreographer Bob Fosse were at the top of their popularity in 1972, having just made Cabaret, the blockbuster musical for which both won Oscars. Liza with a "Z" places the still-coltish Minnelli on the stage of the Lyceum Theater, in a one-night-only performance covered by Fosse's eight cameras. Songs by Cabaret composers John Kander and Fred Ebb provide a spine for the show, including a breathless rendition of "Ring Them Bells" and the tongue-twisting "Say Liza (Liza with a 'Z')," a goofball number that sounds more like one of Danny Kaye's patter songs than a tune for Liza Minnelli.
Liza treats each song as an emotional Mount Everest, never holding back a thing, and the result is a psychodrama played out in the klieg lights. (The outrageous costumes by Halston don't hold back a thing, either; Studio 54, here we come!) Memories of the all-or-nothing style of her mother, Judy Garland, are already heavy in the air by the time Minnelli reaches "My Mammy," and workouts on "God Bless the Child" and "Son of a Preacher Man" confirm the singer's approach.
As for Fosse's choreography, there are signature moves aplenty--his dancing so frequently suggested a choreographer lusting for actual sex to break out on stage. "Bye Bye Blackbird" gives Minnelli and her backup dancers a chance to stretch out in an echt-Fosse feast of bowler hats and white gloves. The bell-and-booty shaking in "Ring Them Bells" and the loony tuxedo-clad cowpokes in "I Gotcha" hint that Fosse was in the midst of a manic phase. Speaking of which, Minnelli tackling Joe Tex's "I Gotcha" is one of those jaw-dropping mismatches that she salvages only through dint of daft commitment. No quarreling with the Cabaret medley; say want you want about Liza, she owns those songs. Minnelli and Fosse won Emmys for the show. The restoration of the original materials looks about as good as can be expected, with the spirit of a glitzy seventies TV variety special quite intact. --Robert Horton
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The songs are:
1: "Yes," from the Kander & Ebb show "70, Girls, 70."
2: "God Bless the Child," a marvelous take on the Billie Holiday classic.
3: "Say Liza," a novelty John Kander number and the show's title song.
4: "It Was a Good Time," a touching song where Liza gets to use her acting talent.
5: "I Gottcha," the first of 3 production numbers, with Liza in a red micro mini.
6: "Son of a Preacher Man."
7: "Ring Them Bells" is very amusing with Liza having to travel to Europe to meet the boy next door.
8: "Bye Bye Blackbird," the standout number for choreography, staging and performance. Liza dazzles in black velvet!
9: "You've Let Yourself Go," Charles Aznavour's mature love song, and few can sing Aznavour like Liza.
10: "My Mammy," wonderful!
11: "Cabaret" medley ("Wilkommen," "Married," "Money," "Maybe this Time," "Cabaret"). What can you say...Liza IS Sally Bowles!
12: Curtain calls and titles.
I've only seen clips of the show over the years and look forward to sitting down and seeing it as those lucky enough in the audience did. Shot on film for a unique and different approach to the traditional variety or musical show, it's more like a movie of a concert than a TV special.
Grab this one right away...lest it disappear from the shelves for another 30 years!
UPDATE: I saw the show in Los Angeles on 03/23/06 at a screening with Liza herself, sponsored by the TV Academy, and it's truly amazing. I've had the album for years so I know every song, but to actually see the show as it was intended added a whole new layer and dimension. In the discussion panel afterwards (featuring Minnelli and the producers), they said, and rightly so, after the years of bad headlines and drama played out in the public, putting this out points the press back in the direction of what they should be talking about -- the singular and stunning talent that is Liza.
Run don't walk...and see what real talent is all about. This is it!
In nearly all of the extras, especially the panel discussion that's worth the price of the DVD itself, you're looking at contemporary digital video.
However, in the restoration of "Liza with a "Z" -- the 1972 program itself -- it must be noted that the video quality isn't up to the quality of the audio.
In fairness, this video restoration was based on raw material that was originally captured on 16 millimeter film. This is the kind of lower grade film stock shown in schools and small auditoriums. And small TV screens.
When you blow up 16-millimeter film stock (rather than standard 35-millimeter), you'll sometimes get, depending upon the size of your display screen -- a fuzzy, off-and-on, "out of focus" appearance.
This is most apparent in close-ups of Liza's face. The colors are brilliant, the sound is wonderful, the production is spectacular -- but this show was not intended for big-screen projection screens now available at electronics stores in the 21st century.
The intermittent fuzziness is more noticeable watching "Liza with a "Z" on a 32-inch TV screen vs. your computer.
One can only imagine the horrific problems that must have emerged during the restoration of this important historical document. That we're able to view anything at all with no degradation in color or sound is a miracle.
So to that end, customers -- be advised that this package is still, in my view, worth every penny. But given the 16mm film stock upon which the restoration is based -- do not expect the same image quality with which you're accustomed to seeing with contemporary films on standard DVDs.
More than anything, "Liza with a "Z" has a "lost and suddenly rediscovered" quality that's out-of-this-world. Be patient with it. After the first few minutes, you'll get used to the off-and-on fuzziness -- and before you know it, you'll be transported to a time and a place that reminds us what a sensation Liza Minnelli became, especially from 1972 to 1989, when it seemed she was destined to become an icon, placed on the short list of the greatest entertainers in history.
She might still get there with the release of this important DVD, and I'm optimistic she will.
In sum, "Liza with a "Z" obliterates the trashy tabloid stories which have chased Liza Minnelli's life during the past decade. And when you're done watching this show -- and all of its fabulous extras -- you're left with the indisputable fact that Minnelli remains a unique talent that transcends adversity. Everyone associated with its restoration should be applauded.
At some point -- it belongs in the Smithsonian AND at the Museum of Radio and Television for future generations to enjoy -- for free.
Bob Fosse was also at his best for staging this show. The music by Kander and Ebb is sublime. There's so much electricity here the whole concert is hot to the touch! I love the moments when you see Liza dancing with all the others while wearing the white gloves during "Bye Bye Blackbird;" the show-stopping "Ring Them Bells" which has a strong vaudevillian flavor here; and the next to the last song, "My Mammy" is not just touching and nostalgic; it is perhaps the most definitive performance since Jolson himself sang it. Personally, I have always been a fan of vaudeville; and there's a strong current of that running through the entire show. Yes, the show was so state of the art at the time, with Liza's risqu? costumes and all--but the nostalgia and the vaudeville flavors make it a universally appealing performance. The trademark Cabaret medley at the end of Liza's concert is equally thrilling. Encore!
The extras are plentiful and make this a very good product. You get, as you may already know from reading above, Liza's performance at the 2005 GLAAD Awards and footage of Liza at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival. The complete A&E biography of Liza is here, too! AWESOME!!!!!
Of course, fans who rushed to buy this may have noticed that, at least for most of the first issued CDs, the first note is missing from the CD. Do not fear! In fact, take a lemon and turn it into lemonade. Why not keep the CD instead of returning it? After all, you'll eventually have a collectible in the CD itself since obviously the CD will be re-manufactured to include the first note. (That was a surprise to me; why this mistake? Four and three-quarter stars for that error.)
All in all, this instant classic DVD/CD combination would have to appeal to any fan of top notch theater, not just Liza's core fan base. With Liza, Fosse, Kander and Ebb, all the stars were in the right place at the right time to produce an unforgettable legendary concert. Even if you've never seen Liza Minnelli perform you owe it to yourself to get this for sublime entertainment. God bless you, Liza; what a gift we have in you!
If the reviewer had watched the A&E biography of her, he would have been aware of some of her other artistic accomplishments. For example, the Broadway show CHICAGO was about to close because Gwen Verdon took ill. Liza stepped in and saved the day, garnering great reviews for her performance. She has won 3 Tony awards, an emmy, a grammy, and an Oscar.
But getting back to the review of "Liza With a Z": So what if maybe she lipsynched a few numbers? Could you dance like that and be able to sing at the same time? It was still HER vice, for crying out loud.
I would not call myself a Liza fanatic by any means. I do admire her and belive she is a tremendous talent, as is clearly evident int his special. She has a very commanding stage presence and is a top-notch entertainer.
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