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Life still a 'Cabaret' for Liza

Liza Minnelli, who admitted to having a cold, performs with MenAlive, the Orange County gay men's chorus at Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

December 14, 2012|By Michael Miller
  • Liza Minnelli performs at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa on Thursday.
Liza Minnelli performs at Segerstrom Center for the Arts… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

"Cabaret," the title number from Liza Minnelli's greatest screen musical, is a fight song as much as a showstopper. Midway through its celebration of a carefree life, the lyrics describe a girlfriend of the narrator who died of "too much pills and liquor," but who looked content laid out in her coffin. "I made my mind up back in Chelsea," the narrator resolves at the end of the bridge, "when I go, I'm going like Elsie."

It's a defiant tune, and sometimes it shows up in settings that render its message of against-the-odds cheer even more poignant. Consider the end of the movie "Cabaret": After Minnelli finishes singing the song in a German nightclub circa 1932, the camera pans around to see the audience dotted with Nazis. Life, the shot chillingly indicates, may not be a cabaret much longer.

No brownshirts crowded the Segerstrom Center for the Arts when Minnelli sang "Cabaret" there Thursday night, but she found herself up against an oppressor of a different kind. The singer, who shared the bill with the Orange County gay men's chorus MenAlive, wasn't in prime condition to perform, as she admitted more than once during the show. The 66-year-old Minnelli sounded out of breath at times and told the audience she had a cold, which manifested itself in occasional coughing fits and glasses of water.

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When Minnelli got to the line in "Cabaret" about the pills and liquor, she even appeared to make reference to her own hard-lived past, as the song stopped completely for an instant and Minnelli froze with a sheepish look on her face. But in face of that knowledge, and with her voice sometimes groping for steady ground, "Cabaret" sounded more triumphant than ever: Life, for everything it may have thrown at Minnelli, was still a cabaret, and she wasn't a happy corpse just yet.

For that matter, she had an audience eager to party with her. Nearly every song Minnelli sang in the last half of her set drew a standing ovation, and some audience members treated her more like an old friend than an icon, interspersing comments between her songs. The performer was clearly used to that; when a woman a few rows back shouted that she had seen her in "Chicago" years ago, Minnelli engaged in a brief conversation with her about when the performance took place.

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