rambling reporter

In West Palm Beach, a miracle named Liza

Eons ago, when Frank Capra made a movie called "The Miracle Woman," that title referred to Barbara Stanwyck, playing for the record an Aimee Semple McPherson-type evangelist; as it turns out, right now there could be no more apt description to hang on Liza Minnelli judging by the powerhouse performance LM gave Saturday at a big event in West Palm Beach, Fla. It was at a benefit that brought out an SRO crowd to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the city's magnificent Kravis Center, which has become one of the premier entertainment centers in the country. Brian Stokes Mitchell was part of the gala, singing magnificently. Joel Grey was there, charming the audience, especially when re-creating some "Cabaret" moments. Opera's Harolyn Blackwell also performed and was a knockout. Then came Liza, looking not just good but great, singing with the pipes of the pre-tabloid Liza, dancing in a way that belies the fact she's had a hip operation and all sorts of physical ailments. She was, amazingly, like the Minnelli of those "Cabaret" days. Something else about this "Liza 2007": She sailed in, not performing old reliables but new-for-Liza material including "I Am My Own Best Friend," a Kander & Ebb song from the legit version of "Chicago" but cut from the 2002 movie, and another Kander & Ebber, "So What?" which was scissored from Liza's 1972 film version of "Cabaret." Also outstanding was the way she delivered a mix of Kurt Weill's "My Ship" and George Gershwin's "The Man I Love." But the big test for her pipes came when she took on the Alan Jay Lerner-Burton Lane throbber "What Did I Have That I Don't Have?" from "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever." Only a rare few, led by Eydie Gorme, have ever done that torch song justice; on Saturday, Ms. Minnelli, full-throttle, did the best rendition of it I've ever heard. (Liza adds the kind of plaintive passion that was never Gorme's forte.) This may be "Liza With a Z," but it also is "The Survivor Known as Minnelli." The way she looked and performed at this event made it difficult to believe she's a person who's had a seriously black cloud hovering over her head for the past six or so years. This was an artist in control of her considerable talent — someone who, if we didn't all know better, could be mistaken for one who's been living a life that has been, as an old song goes, "just a bowl of cherries." She's a miracle woman, indeed. … Tonight in Manhattan, Judy Collins begins a three-week stand at the Cafe Carlyle, and this begins the final week for "The Little Dog Laughed" at the Cort. It closes Sunday after a three month run. … There are five notable Broadway and off-Broadway theatrical launchings in the week ahead: "Adrift in Macao," the latest sendup from Christopher Durang (who co-wrote it with Peter Melnick), officially opens tonight at the 59E59 Theaters; "A Very Common Procedure," directed by Michael Greif, opens Wednesday at the Lucille Lortel; Eric Bogosian's "Talk Radio," with Liev Schreiber, is Broadway-bound Thursday at the Longacre, while on the same night Harley Granville-Barker's "The Madras House" starts off-Broadway at the Mint; Part 3 of Tom Stoppard's mammoth "The Coast of Utopia," subtitled "Salvage," opens Sunday at the Vivian Beaumont.