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At Pacific Amphitheatre, Minnelli Emphasizes Liza the Show-woman Over Liza the Consummate Singer

August 24, 1987|RANDY LEWIS | Times Staff Writer

The brand of theatrical cabaret pop that Liza Minnelli specializes in can be eye-poppingly showy or breathtakingly dramatic. On a great night, it can be both. Saturday at the Pacific Amphitheatre, Minnelli had a night that was largely good, but only sporadically great.

In bringing to Southern California essentially the same show that played a record three weeks at Carnegie Hall earlier this year, Minnelli proved yet again that her versatility and effectiveness as singer, dancer and actress may be unmatched.

Certainly no one--not even Sinatra--can invest more heart into such overexposed numbers as "Cabaret" and "New York, New York," despite the fact that they've been in her repertoire for a decade or more.

But she could increase this show's voltage if she pulled out all the stops less frequently and emphasized Liza the singer over Liza the consummate show-woman.

At least the arrangement of "New York, New York" that closed her 75-minute performance bypassed the sure-fire half-tempo kick chorus that guarantees standing ovations (she got several anyway). Maybe even Minnelli recognized the onset of theatrical overkill following a half-dozen or more such moments in other songs.

Contrast in both musical dynamics and emotional range is crucial in this kind of music, but there were too few quiet moments to provide counterpoint to the numerous big, brassy climaxes.

In fact, most of the second half of the show proved the notion that more is less. In a campy number titled "Oscar," Minnelli was joined by composer and ersatz vocalist Marvin Hamlisch, her longtime friend, occasional musical collaborator and fellow Academy Award winner. As a nod to their own celebrity, this cutesy number revealed little--musically or personally--other than the fact that, gee whiz, no matter what they tell us, stars really do get nervous on Oscar night.

This was followed by an overlong, Hamlisch-arranged medley in which Minnelli saluted the many Fred Ebb-John Kander songs written for her over the years.

One of Minnelli's strengths has been that--with the help of Ebb and Kander--her concerts offer something fresh on each tour rather than merely a recap of her best-known songs or a hodgepodge of frequently performed pop standards. By contrast, the medley added nothing new except the nagging prospect of a future show built around medleys of her favorite medleys.

That second half was particularly frustrating after the stunning first half, which opened with her ebullient version of "I Can See Clearly Now," a mainstay of her shows since her well-publicized victory over chemical dependency two years ago.

Her voice huskier and richer than ever, Minnelli then stood almost at attention, hands behind her back, and offered "Our Love Is Here to Stay," a ballad that soared solely on the strength of her exquisite melodic control, phrasing and vocal shading.

She again exploited her magnificent voice to overcome some cliched lyrics in "How Deep Is the Ocean," which was framed in a risky, skeletal arrangement featuring just Minnelli's vocals and Frank Prowsky's rich, warm clarinet accompaniment.

As the Eastern philosophers observe, there's nothing more powerful than quiet water; the same can be said of quiet music.

Hamlisch opened with an innocuous 35-minute performance that mixed some of his greatest hits ("The Way We Were," and a pair of Scott Joplin rags he adapted for "The Sting") with crowd-pleasing, on-the-spot compositions built on suggested song titles shouted by audience members.

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