'Liza & Alan': Wasn't It Swell?

During Alan Cumming’s Tony-winning turn as the Emcee in Cabaret on Broadway, Liza Minnelli (who, obviously, won an Oscar for playing Sally Bowles in Bob Fosse’s 1972 film) went to see him backstage. She was so in awe of his brilliant performance that she said, “Alan, I want to be your friend forever.” In an era of celebrity air kisses that make no physical or emotional contact, that could have been the equivalent to, “Nice to meet you.” But if one thing was clear during last night’s wonderfully fun (and, sure, flawed… not that anyone cared) Liza & Alan at New York City’s Town Hall (a one-night performance that sold out so quickly a second night was added), Liza meant what she said.

The pair opened the show together with Chicago‘s “Nowadays,” setting the stage for a night featuring big hits from the theater veterans. The two sat on directors chairs (Liza broke her ankle, she’d later tell the crowd) in front of their band (including Liza’s long-time collaborator Billy Stritch), a plain red curtain, and an old-school light-up sign with the show title. There were some flowers on stage, but they weren’t meticulously planned and placed like they were at fellow legend Barbra Streisand’s show at Barclay’s Arena earlier this year. There was no big-screen with old photos, as Barry Manilow had on his Broadway show. Liza & Alan felt intentionally intimate, so when Liza flubbed the line “Isn’t it swell?” she just smiled at her costar with a look of “I’m just here hanging out with my friend” and went on with the show.

After a couple of songs, Liza ceded the stage to Alan, who proved why he can seamlessly transition from playing high-strung political advisor Eli Gold on The Good Wife to playing every role in Macbeth on Broadway, as he will do next month. The man can do anything — whether singing a goosebump-inducing mashup of Adele’s “Someone Like You,” Katy Perry’s “Firework,” and Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory,” or performing a song he wrote about an ex who went under the knife too much, with lyrics that rhymed “Zsa Zsa Gabor” with “I haven’t seen your eyebrows raised since 2004.” His banter was equally stellar, including a story about staying at a house across the street from Liza in Fire Island. “Liza coming to Fire Island. Can you imagine? It was like a Papal visit… if you can imagine the Catholic church full of homosexuals.”

He knew his audience.

When Liza, who turned 67 the day before, took over the stage in a black sequined pants suit (like you’d expect her to wear anything else?), she praised Alan (“Isn’t he darling?”) and opened with crowd favorite “New York, New York.” Even after multiple standing ovations, she still seemed in awe of her success. “I’m this old and this is happening,” she said. “This is so cool.” She performed favorites like “Liza with a Z,” “But the World Goes Round,” “Ring Them Bells,” and Charles Aznavour’s “What Makes a Man a Man.”

Despite being mostly confined to a chair, Liza managed to get in plenty of trademark jazz hands, leg kicks, and shoulder shimmies. “I hope I’m doing okay for you,” she said to rousing applause. She, too, knew her audience.

Predictably, the closing set featured the duo mostly performing songs from Cabaret, though they swapped gender roles with Liza singing the Emcee’s “Willkommen” and Alan singing Sally Bowles’ “Mein Herr.” Alan asked the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” to Liza and after dancing a bit on stage, they closed with a sweet rendition of “Our Love is Here to Stay.” I’ve interviewed Liza before and she’s talked about how her friends often come over for nights of singing at the piano. Sitting in the audience felt like being invited over to Liza’s to watch her bestie belt out some classics with her. Not every note was hit, not every word was nailed, but it was the kind of warm night you just can’t fake.


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