RAMBLING REPORTER

Minnelli's loyal subjects will rejoice as B'way queen returns to her Palace

A cinch to be a Manhattan list-topper next month is "Liza's at the Palace …," which was planned as a two-week run beginning Dec. 3 but because of hefty ticket sales already has been extended through Dec. 28.

New Yorkers love Liza Minnelli, and everyone loves a survivor, and this particular long-distance runner is in better shape than in years. It also will be the first time in New York that Minnelli will be doing her tribute to her godmother, the late Kay Thompson, the famed MGM vocal coach, arranger, author (notably, the "Eloise" books) and unmatched nightclub entertainer, eccentric and one-time-only movie star (1957's "Funny Face," with Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn).

Minnelli re-creates the numbers and staging Thompson did in her fabled club act in the 1950s with the Williams Brothers, which included Andy Williams — the brothers this time being channeled through Jim Caruso, Cortes Alexander, Tiger Martina and Johnny Rodgers.

One of the most interesting aspects of all this is Minnelli's family history with the famed Palace Theatre. The house was the scene of mom Judy Garland's first great comeback following her very public and traumatic firing from MGM in her and the studio's 1950s heyday. After a sensational 19-week run in 1951-52, Garland returned to the Palace for a 17-week stay in 1956-57, during which Liza, at age 10, made her first appearance on any New York stage, dancing while Garland belted out "Swanee."

Jump ahead 10 years to July-August 1967, when Garland made her final Palace appearance. On the last night of that engagement, Liza joined Judy onstage and danced while Garland sang "Chicago," after which Minnelli, with Peter Allen at the piano, sang "Cabaret," this five years before Liza starred in the 1972 film version.

Minnelli's own Palace history doesn't stop there. In 1974, she was on its stage appearing at a benefit for composer Jules Styne. In 1975, she stepped in to sub for an ailing Gwen Verdon in the Palace run of "Chicago." Then, Liza broke a Palace house record when she did her own "Minnelli on Minnelli" tribute to her father Vincente for 24 performances in December 1999.

(All this Liza lore thanks to her friend and keeper of the Minnelli facts, Scott Schecher.)

Considering the history of the Palace and Garland and Minnelli, this upcoming engagement already ranks as a bona fide event.

Comings and goings

There's only one Broadway opening between now and month's end: Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," which officially debuts Sunday at the Marquis. Headlined by Stephen Bogardus and directed by Walter Bobbie, it's in for a limited run through Jan. 4.

It's a great year-end addition to the Rockettes kicking at the Music Hall alongside nativity camels. One hopes the expected slowdown in holiday spending this year won't discourage the "Christmas" producers from making this a yearly Manhattan visitor, at least for a few Christmases in the future.

Meanwhile, other corks will pop all over town. Chita Rivera is holding forth at Feinstein's at the Regency through Nov. 29, followed by Michael Feinstein combining his annual holiday show with a salute to Sinatra —accompanied by a 17-piece band — from Dec. 2-30. In addition, Andrea Marcovicci is singing great movie songs at the Algonquin's Oak Room through Dec. 27, and Steve Tyrell is at the Cafe Carlyle through Dec. 31.

The latest "Encores!" entry, "On the Town" — with a cast that includes Andrea Martin and Michael Cumpsty and direction by John Rando — wraps Sunday at the City Center, while the Stephen Sondheim-John Weidman redo of their musical "Bounce," now called "Road Show" and directed by John Doyle, continues at the Public through Dec. 28. One needs a shoehorn to get into that one.

See the 'Plow'

Highly recommended to anyone looking for an electrifying and entertaining 90 minutes of theatergoing is the staccato and expertly acted revival of David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow" at the Barrymore with Jeremy Piven, Raul Esparza and Elisabeth Moss. Piven and Esparza, especially, proved me wrong that no one but Joe Mantegna could do justice to Mamet's words on a stage.

Robert Osborne is the primetime host of Turner Classic Movies.
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