In theatre, there are many famous collaborators – Kander and Ebb, Rogers and Hammerstein, Gilbert and Sullivan … You’ll notice that they are all composers, they are the ‘creatives’ behind the scenes. It is rare to hear of an on-stage partnership in a business notoriously bitchy and fraught with narcissism. And yet, last night I had the tremendous privilege of witnessing not only a collaboration, but what seemed almost to be a rite of passage –a ceremonial knighting of a new icon.
Liza Minnelli is a star of the highest order – the child of Judy and Vincent – born into the gilded world of show business at a time when being talented meant something. She has quipped that she exited the birth canal looking for her best camera angle. Liza is that rare triple-threat – a singer, a dancer and an actress – and an Oscar, Tony and Grammy Winner. Despite a life plagued by illness, addiction and heartbreak, Liza battles on as one of the few remaining genuine stars of our time.
Alan Cumming cracked Broadway wide open with his dexterous performance as the overtly sexual, crass and deliciously wicked EmCee in ‘Cabaret’. Liza won her Oscar 30 years before that as Sally Bowles in the film adaptation of that musical. When Liza saw Alan’s performance she reportedly went straight to his dressing room and said ‘I want to be your friend forever’.
‘Liza and Alan’ seemed to be the very incarnation of that grand statement. In a land of air kisses and staged marriages, this was a celebration of a real friendship and a shared love of New York, showbiz and all that sparkles. Sure, there were missed cues and flubbed lines, sure Liza is older, more fragile and husky, debilitated by 2 hip replacements, a bum knee and a sprained ankle but no-one cared. I felt as though I had been invited to a night at Liza’s house – a night where Liza introduced us all to her new BFF the fabulous Alan Cumming - her protégée or the son she might have had if life had dealt a different hand.
Alan’s solo-set included an extraordinary mash-up of Adele’s Someone Like You, Lady Gaga’s Blaze of Glory and Katy Perry’s Firework, an original work about an ex with a penchant for plastic sugery, a Bacharach/Sondheim medley and more all woven expertly together with charming repartee. We heard that when Liza went to Fire Island, "It was like a papal visit--if you can imagine the church full of homosexuals." The crowd erupted. "Don't cry for me, Argentina," quipped Alan wryly.
Liza’s set began with ‘New York New York’ and included ‘Ring Them Bells’ and Charles Aznevour’s ‘What Makes a Man a Man’. Perched on a director’s chair, Liza held court rasping her way through her self-deprecating banter, peppered with that trademark cackle. At one point she lost the false eyelashes off one eye and proceeded to rip the others off too. There is no vanity here, no insecurity or fear – Liza is at home on the stage. She knows that her audience is reverential. After all, this is Liza Minnelli on stage in New York, New York.
After two and a half hours, 3 curtain calls and a jubilant audience singing Happy Birthday, Alan and a visibly depleted Liza left the stage. I couldn’t help but notice that many of the audience members were in tears. For my fellow theatre devotees, this was like our Woodstock. We were there that night when Liza sang with Alan. We were there.