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TV REVIEW : 'Sam' a Triple-Header for Liza Minnelli Fans

May 31, 1988|DON SHIRLEY

VOICE: What's wrong?

LIZA MINNELLI: Why should something be wrong?

VOICE: What's wrong?

MINNELLI: Sam found out.

These lines begin each of the playlets that make up "Liza Minnelli: Triple Play" tonight at 10 on ABC (Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42). In order, the "Sam Found Out" plays include a dramatic scene by Lanford Wilson, a romantic comedy by Terrence McNally and Wendy Wasserstein, and a musical comedy by Fred Ebb and John Kander.

Other than the assigned genre and opening lines (and presumably, an injunction to aim for about 15 minutes), the writers were free to create, according to a press release for the show. Actually, though, it appears there was another rule--each play had to offer plenty of opportunities for big close-ups of Minnelli, which director Piers Haggard has been all too willing to provide, especially in the first and third plays.

"Triple Play" never transcends its status as a star vehicle, designed to show off Minnelli's versatility to the max. Maybe Minnelli fans won't mind this, but fans of the writers may wish that they weren't constricted by the rules of the game.

Wilson wrote a scene between a junkie (Minnelli), just out of detox, and her former pimp (Ryan O'Neal), set against the background of an abandoned amusement park. It takes a little too long to get to its point, especially considering its position at the top of the show.

The romantic comedy, in the middle of the show, features Minnelli as a struggling dance teacher whose least talented pupil is an incognito African crown prince (Louis Gossett Jr.). This one tries to cram too much exposition into too brief a slot.

Finally, shaky-voiced John Rubinstein appears as a fiance who just can't get along with his intended's dog. Which will she choose--the man or the dog? At last, Minnelli belts out a ballad--which is probably the reason her fans have watched the show so far. We'd rather hear her sing about lost love than about her time spent in detox.

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