What becomes a legend most? Once upon a time for Liza Minnelli, it was the Blackglama fur campaign. But this once-powerhouse seemed under a spell, as a vocally-and-physically-weakened Liza sputtered along well below her standard during a recent performance at Livermoreâ€™s Wente Vineyards, two days and 41 years from the anniversary of her motherâ€™s passing. Liza appeared not healthy enough to sustain the rigors of performing and touring. It was painful and heart wrenching to watch this once-great, colossal talent reduced to a hobbled, coughing, pain-riddled, voice-cracking, occasionally-befuddled, diminished version of herself. Thereâ€™s no tap dancing around it â€” whomever encouraged her to go out in this shape before an audience doesnâ€™t have Lizaâ€™s best interests at heart.
During the show, she rose from the ashes with phoenix-like power on three trademark songs (â€śCabaretâ€ť, â€śMaybe This Timeâ€ť and â€śNew York, New Yorkâ€ť), briefly radiating a portion of the white-hot light her star once blazed. However, each number had obvious flaws and exacted a visible toll, necessitating that Liza be helped to her chair with little-to-no vapors left after each number.
Billy Stritch (Lizaâ€™s accompanist and music director) deserves the respect heâ€™s earned over the years. But why allow Liza to perform with such a tired voice, unclear mind and lack of stamina? He more than occasionally fed lyrics when she couldnâ€™t find them in the large teleprompter and even played nine bars of open vamp until she regained lyrics in the song ironically titled â€śPain.â€ť Stritch frequently had to move furniture (and Liza) around when she tired. Her recent knee replacement is all the more reason not to be out there. And we heard from behind-the-scenes that she chain smokes with sporadic coughing to bear it out. Within 15 minutes of leaving, Lizaâ€™s camp texted the publicist, â€śHeard she was just great tonight!â€ť From whom? From our vantage point, many people were shaking heads, pointing and commenting (not with congratulatory glee), most notably when Liza thrice forgot to properly introduce her long-time bassist, insisting she had already done so.
While pondering how to approach this situation, an online Facebook dialogue ensued. Performer Terese Geneco shared, â€śSadly, folks whoâ€™ve been true friends over the years have been forced out of her life by a couple of people who donâ€™t have her best interests at heart.â€ť She continued â€śA once very-close personal friend of Lizaâ€™s said about a month ago that Liza needs two months in rehab to get clean again, to get rid of the couple of snakes who have gotten their teeth into her, and surround herself again with her real friends who care about her as a person, not as a performer or a show business icon.â€ť
The story is as old as show-biz itself: A star kept somewhat isolated, given everything they want (and usually donâ€™t need) and encouraged to go onstage when they should be resting. Elvis, one of the first music mega-stars to implode as a result of sick sycophants feeding a troubled soul and ego, has been a subject of Genecoâ€™s. Neither of us knows Lizaâ€¦ nor the lady on the corner stepping in front of an oncoming bus. Given the opportunity, shouldnâ€™t we reach out, grab her, and try to bring her back to safety? Geneco adds, â€śItâ€™s not about the show anymore, kids. Itâ€™s someoneâ€™s life weâ€™re talking about. It sounds to me like sheâ€™s stepping right out in front of that bus and weâ€™re all just watching it hit her. Do we care that little about a person who has suffered greatly and has brought enormous pleasure to so many?â€ť
From this performance, itâ€™s clear that enabling is disabling.
If she never performs again, her legacy still stands; though it stands to be diminished at this pace. Liza, please, take a year off, nourish your body and soul. Stop smoking, regain control over your vocals and lungs. Question anyone who manipulates you to believe otherwise. Liza, reality tells us the show mustnâ€™t always go on. If youâ€™re not alive, it definitely wonâ€™t go on. Stop. Please. Heal-up. Come back to us, restored and ready to shine again.