“Call me Liza,” the show business legend and celebrated gay icon declares in her familiar, energetic voice after being greeted as Ms Minnelli.
She is one of only a very few performers who has won the quartet of the entertainment industry’s most celebrated awards — Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy — over a career that spans more than five decades.
Her father is the Oscar-winning director Vincent Minnelli whose films include classics like Gigi, Meet Me in St Louis and An American in Paris. Her mother is Judy Garland, the actress and singer whose 1969 death is widely cited as the spark that began the Stonewall riots. But what self-respecting queer doesn’t know that?
Minnelli made her film debut at the age of two in In the Good Old Summertime starring her mother and Van Johnson. Since then she has starred in more than 20 other films including Arthur, New York, New York and her Academy Award-winning role as Sally Bowles in Cabaret. She has recorded more than 25 albums and worked with a wide range of musical artists, everyone from Frank Sinatra and Charles Aznavour to The Pet Shop Boys and My Chemical Romance.
Fresh off a recent South American tour and her triumphant return to Broadway last December in the acclaimed Liza’s at the Palace, Minnelli is performing in Toronto on Tue, Apr 7 at Roy Thomson Hall.
No stranger to rave reviews, even she was impressed by the notices for her last show. “Oh, it was wonderful, and with those kind of reviews, my God. A dream come true,” she says. “It was amazing. I mean we didn’t really get one bad review.” She says her show in Toronto will be mostly Liza’s at the Palace, “but I’ve thrown in some new stuff, too.”
Despite her devoted following Minnelli does not consider herself a gay icon. “I don’t think about it, you know what I mean? Luckily, I know a lot of gay dancers and writers. In show business there’s a lot of gay and lesbian people and I’m buddies with everybody. I really am.”
When not working Minnelli keeps busy. “I always go to see almost everything. I go to plays, to clubs and see what new performers there are, singers, pianists and off-Broadway shows and things like that. I have a huge interest.
“There are lots of wonderful actors and actresses and new directors that I would like to work with,” she says. “I never name names because then it separates somebody from somebody else and it’s not real polite.
“I think my biggest talent is finding people who are more talented than I am,” she says, “and then working with them. Like Ron Lewis, my director, my choreographer [on Liza’s at the Palace]. I’ve worked with him since 1970 and he has won me a couple of Tonys. He’s just the greatest.
“I saw one of his shows and I thought, ‘I have to work with this man.’ This was in the ’60s, right. It took me four years before I could get him to work with me. I had to keep auditioning,” she says, laughing, “but I stuck to it.”
Minnelli, who just turned 63, says she is feeling “great, absolutely superb. Thank you so much for asking.” Over her career she has had a number of prolonged and dramatic health concerns, everything from alcohol and drug addiction to hip replacement surgeries and a near fatal bout of encephalitis in 2000.
“I’m getting used to it, or trying to,” she says referring to her age, laughing. “I don’t know what it is, but I don’t feel it.”
At this stage in her career you might think she has nothing left to accomplish. Minnelli disagrees. “I want to do everything again and better.”