More than halfway through this very strange show, there is at last some acknowledgment of what we are seeing.
Liza Minnelli sings "I'm So Glad I'm Not Young Anymore." The song, like almost all of the others in the show, is from one of the MGM musicals her father directed, in this case "Gigi."
Except that, at the end, there is a new verse tacked on, with pointed references to Studio 54, Alcoholics Anonymous, growing fat, and having 7-foot-tall drag queens dress up in your image.
And right afterward, Liza sings a song with the poignant refrain, "What did I have then I don't have now?" Its lyrics refer to "all the wear and tear" of life and ask the aching question, "Why is the sequel never the equal?"
In these moments, "Minnelli on Minnelli" comes close to the real drama of the evening: age, excess, the strange status of the gay icon and the painful sequel to showbiz success.
But since the show is billed as a great star's celebration of her father's Hollywood career, the need to deny all of this wins out over the moments of truth.
In theory, Liza and her director, the great lyricist Fred Ebb, might have presented a slick, upbeat show, drawing on "The Band Wagon," "Meet Me in Saint Louis," "Gigi," "An American in Paris" and the rest of Vincente Minnelli's magical MGM repertoire.
In practice, they didn't really have this option.
In the first place, the unhappy ghost of Judy Garland was bound to haunt the celebration. Her image comes at us from the film clips, most weirdly at the end, when Liza lip-synchs her mother's screen rendition of "The Trolley Song."
And in any case, the show itself is an eerie reprise of Garland's 1967 comeback concerts in the same theater. There's the same drama of a wounded warrior returning from a battle with her inner demons, with the same army of besotted devotees willing her to get through to the final curtain.
The other reason why this couldn't be a slick slice of showbiz is that Liza can't do slick anymore.
The svelte, sexy dancer of "Cabaret" is now so reluctant to move that in one number ("Shine on Your Shoes" from "The Band Wagon"), she literally has her bevy of boys push her around in a chair.
The voice, too, is almost gone. It still has power and passion, but there's no purity left. Even with swelling musical arrangements designed to keep it afloat and a heavy use of reverb in the sound system, the sound is more trilling than thrilling.
It is also all too obvious that Liza has trouble remembering the lines that Fred Ebb has written for her and, on at least one occasion, the lyrics of the songs.
But none of this need have mattered if Minnelli and Ebb were not in such denial. The real failure is the refusal to confront the dark realities that haunt the show.
Most of the time, they simply carry on regardless, with a cheery account of Hollywood glamour. They sleepwalk through the truth so blindly that the show might have been called "Liza With a Zzzzz . . .”
Even so, there are images of almost unbearable poignancy, especially when Liza shows us photographs from her childhood.
Seeing little Liza dressed up in cut-down costumes from her father's movies, and watching her now, we glimpse the cost of glorious fantasies. We walk, for a moment, in the no man's land that separates life from art.
If the show had dared to deal with that pain, it would have been much less painful to watch.
“Minnelli on Minnelli" is on at times – but mostly off. The show, which features Liza Minnelli crooning tunes from her late father's films, opened last night in a limited engagement. Although her voice is richer and more powerful than it has been in recent years, she still doesn't shine nearly as brightly as her sequined Bob Mackie costumes.
This comeback begins with the three-time Tony winner singing "If I Had You" from the film "The Clock." Spotlighted on the stage, which recalls her Studio 54 days thanks to its large reflecting beams, Minnelli warbles the first number standing still at the mike.
She leaves the fancy footwork to her five chorus boys, who appear on stage not long after the show begins. Actually, the show suffers from too many of these chorus numbers.
A handful of the songs, including, ironically enough, "By Myself," are performed by the singers/dancers without Minnelli even on stage. Perhaps the pieces are done sans star so that she can recover from the previous song.
Regardless of the motivation, the chorus is less than impressive. In fact, she often vocally outshines the men, though they can hold their notes longer.
Nor can you count on their dance numbers.
Choreographer John DeLuca has the men wiggle their hands so much, it seems that it's done to divert attention from their feet, which weren't always in sync.
Minnelli takes other respites -- these times remaining on stage -- to present, with the help of screens hanging overhead, family photos and clips from Vincente Minnelli's movie musicals such as "Gigi," "An American in Paris," "Brigadoon" and "Meet Me in St. Louis," starring her mother, Judy Garland.
Because of the non-singing sections, which make up a significant part of the production, and Minnelli’s constant coughing and drinking water on stage, you wonder whether she'll come back for the second act.
But she does and in better form.
In a winking acknowledgment to the fact that she's no longer in shape -- physically or vocally – she does a crowd-pleasing rendition of "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore," replete with new lyrics about her weight gain and past partying ways.
There are other hits, to be sure, including her takes on "Baubles, Bangles and Beads," "The Trolley Song" and "I Got Rhythm," which, curiously, she performs without any rhythm and seated in a chair.
Having taken her bow, she returned for one more tune, "I Thank You," written by Jolm Kander and Fred Ebb, who directed this hodgepodge of songs, dance numbers and highlights from Vincente Mimlelli movies.
Unless you're a major fan of the star, cross "Minnelli on Minnelli" off your must-see list.
Only months ago, mentions of Liza Minnelli came with a lamentation: She used to be so good.
Vocal surgery and personal problems that seem part of the genetic code of her great talent conspired to make the 53-year-old "past tense," Until now.
In a remarkably steep learning curve, one of the last of the red-hot belters has experienced a dramatic vocal rehabilitation, leading up to the Wednesday opening of Minnelli on Minnelli (*** out of four) - a tribute to her director father, Vincente Minnelli - at Broadway's Palace Theatre, which is selling well but not yet sold out, through Jan. 1.
Though reportedly so tentative in dress rehearsal that her vocal renaissance threatened to be a mirage, she experienced daily gains and now sings with a sturdiness and richness not heard in years.
Minnelli now sings smart rather than hard. Lyrics she once might have sledgehammered are caressed in thoughtfully rendered phrases in a repertoire that favors ballads.
Forget the old recklessness, when she drove her Cadillac voice as if she were in a demolition derby. Now she's more calculated, but with gratifying artistic maturity, starting with the opening song, the lyrically vocalized, jazz-inflected If I Had You.
Wisely, the show's format doesn't ask Minnelli to sing her old hits, avoiding comparisons with her younger self. Instead, she and five chorus boys perform favorites from Cabin in the Sky, The Bandwagon, Gigi and others, with occasional film clips and snapshots of baby Liza, all of it charming, well-orchestrated and allowing the star to vocally pace herself.
There is, however, evidence of hasty conception. A medley from Meet Me in St. Louis fails to translate its quaint songs into this glitzier milieu, Also, John DeLuca's choreography, which addresses Minnelli's compromised physicality with lots of activity from the waist up, seems recycled from just about everything.
But do these things matter? The Minnelli voice and presence is so richly apparent, there's not even danger of being upstaged by her mother, Judy Garland, in a film-clip duet of The Trolley Song - which, for all its sentimental momentousness, is strangely inconsequential.
Liza Minnelli's monthlong stand at Broadway's Palace Theater is not a routine return to the concert stage, as both she and her admiring audience are anxiously aware. With endearing if startling bluntness, Minnelli turns to a sidekick at one point in the evening, and in a scripted bit of interplay that nevertheless has the ring of truth, admits, "I'm making a comeback!"
Comebacks are a family legacy, of course. The Palace itself hosted one of her mother Judy Garland's most legendary rallies, when Garland returned triumphantly to the New York stage in 1951 after being fired from MGM. Thus family ghosts attend Minnelli's new concert, and not just because the show, titled "Minnelli on Minnelli," is a tribute to the movies of her father Vincente Minnelli.
There's something ineffably strange and sad and moving about the manner in which Minnelli's life and career have echoed her mother's. What the performer is coming back from are the same kinds of troubles that plagued Garland, health and addiction problems that threatened to dim and even extinguish Minnelli's vocal gifts -- the talent that is her other great inheritance from her mother.
So let us judge "Minnelli on Minnelli" first as a comeback, a chance for Minnelli to reassert her viability as an entertainer before a loyal and ardent fan base, to vanquish demons and erase tabloid headlines.
As such it's a creditable, courageous achievement. Minnelli gracefully received salvos of affection from the audience throughout the evening: "We love you, Liza!" "Welcome back, Liza!" And she gave a warm, energetic performance, touring breezily through an eclectic songbook culled from pictures ranging from 1946's "Ziegfeld Follies" to "The Band Wagon" to "Gigi" to 1970's "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever."
Setting aside the additional affection engendered by the personal nature of the show, Minnelli's decision to frame the concert as a tribute to her father's movies has another advantage: It allows her to perform material new to her, and thus not risk comparisons with past performances of her vocally punishing standard repertoire.
For the truth is Minnelli's voice has deteriorated. All voices do, of course. Minnelli's, however, shows the particular wear that comes both from years of ill tending and more years of hard work at full throttle (yet another maternal legacy: an unstinting stage presence). Control is uneven, some notes, frankly, escape her entirely, and the husky timbre has become more pronounced.
But she still has a unique instrument that couldn't be mistaken for anyone else's, as well as decisive, dramatic phrasing and distinctive elocution. Pure vocal magic is sparse but real, particularly as Minnelli warms up over the course of the evening.
The first act of "Minnelli on Minnelli" is the weakest. The production, written and directed by Minnelli's longtime friend and collaborator Fred Ebb, has been padded with material for a sextet of male singer-dancers.
As they perform John DeLuca's uninspired choreography and harmonize on familiar songs from "Meet Me in St. Louis" or "The Band Wagon," these hapless chorus boys lend the show an unfortunate resemblance to one of those Vegas tributes to Tinseltown with names like "Hello, Hollywood, Hello!" Minnelli disappears for whole numbers, either to rest her voice or change into one of Bob Mackie's many flattering, glitter-drenched ensembles.
The star is more appealingly showcased in the second act, offering a groovy, smoldering reading of the Gershwins' "I Got Rhythm" and a typically anthemic rendition of Lerner and Loewe's "What Did I Have," from "On a Clear Day." When Minnelli catches and holds a climactic note, the thrill is still there.
Ebb has also supplied clever new lyrics for "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore," from "Gigi," allowing Liza to mordantly chide the excesses of her youth: "How nice to go home and lock the door/And not drag my butt to 54." The encore was a new Kander & Ebb song, a tribute to Vincente Minnelli called "I Thank You" that found Liza, touchingly, in her best voice of the evening.
The second act also includes film clips from a quartet of Minnelli films and a slide show allowing the audience a peek at photos of the young Liza with various showbiz luminaries.
The audience cooed on cue, and later sat in rapt, affectionate silence as Minnelli sang along with her mother on "The Trolley Song" from "Meet Me in St. Louis."
Indeed, "Minnelli on Minnelli" is ultimately as much support group as it is a concert. It may seem odd to ask audiences to pay for the privilege of providing an entertainer with emotional succor, but Liza's fans seem eager to give back a small measure of the pleasure they've been given by the performer over the years. Minnelli is one of the last practitioners of a particular strain of showbiz that draws on this mutual, personal give and take: We sustain our favorites with our love and loyalty as they have sustained us with their artistry. Call it a healthier kind of co-dependence.