Liza Minnelli’s wonderful life

Liza Minnelli arrives at the 86th Annual Academy Awards on March 2, 2014, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

In the next few months, Liza Minnelli will bring her new musical show, “Simply Liza,” to Vienna, London, Paris and Amsterdam, among other places. There’s one stage, however, on which this Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, Golden Globe and Tony winner has never set foot: Walt Disney Concert Hall. That’ll change on Tuesday night, when “Liza With a Z” heads to downtown L.A. for a one-night-only performance of some of her favorite songs. Minnelli recently chatted about the show from her home in New York, on the eve of her 68th birthday.

You’re a performing icon in so many different arenas — the Broadway stage, Hollywood films, intimate cabarets. Where do you feel most at home performing?

Oh, I think the stage. Because it’s what I always wanted to do. I wanted to be an ice skater at first. And then I saw a Broadway show, “Bye Bye Birdie,” when I was 12 or 13. I thought: “Noooo, I’d rather do that!” All these kids were in it. Everyone looked like they were having such a good time. It was exciting and immediate. I just became a Broadway baby after that. I started to study about it, I went to summer stock, I was a stage hand.

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You’ve appeared opposite Robert De Niro and Dudley Moore, been directed by Martin Scorsese. Who would you most like to work with that you haven’t yet — sky’s the limit?

All of the people you just said — I’d work with them forever, they’re just wonderful. OK, let me see. Matthew McConaughey. Tom Hanks. Jared Leto. I admire them so much. I’m a big fan of movies.

What music do you listen to that might surprise us?

I listen to everything, because I love to move. Brazilian music. I love Ella Fitzgerald and Sinatra because of the words. But surprise? Lady Gaga, I love. She’s a good singer; she plays the piano. She’s a good musician, and she sat down and thought about how to get people’s attention.


Speaking of which — what inspired the electric blue streaks in your hair at the Oscars? And were you offended by the joke Ellen DeGeneres made at your expense?

You know, I always loved that color, and I thought, “Well, why not?” So I copied a classic Halston in that color and I put the streaks in my hair and I said, “OK, here we go.”

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Ellen — I got my feelings hurt a little bit, but not a lot. And I got over it really quickly. Ellen is terrific, she’s really sweet. I don’t think she would have necessarily gone out of her way to hurt my feelings — I mean, we know each other. I just think maybe she was advised badly.


What did you think about the Twitter storm the joke caused, with viewers calling Ellen “transphobic”?

In a funny kind of way, you’re flattered when people are on your side so much. But Ellen is wonderful, and I’m so sorry that all of this caused [stress] for her. But I had a great time.

You were diagnosed with encephalitis in 2000. Doctors said you’d never perform again. Now you’re touring worldwide. How did you will your health back?

They told me I’d never walk or talk again. I thought, “Nah! No, they’re wrong!” But I was very, very frightened. I thought, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. My father always told me if you think about it, there’s always a way — think!” So I thought, “What do I know how to do? I know how to rehearse.” So that’s what I did. I started with the alphabet until it was right.


Then the doctor came in, and I said, “I’d really like to try and walk.” He said, “Liza, are you kidding? There’s no [way].” I said, “I have to just try, one step.” I put my hands on his shoulders, and he picked me up and I ended up on my.... But the next day, I did it again until I could take two steps. I channeled faith and determination and joy. I made up my mind that it wouldn’t be true.

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What can we expect on Tuesday night?

I put together all the songs everybody always requests, and songs my musician friends really like, and songs that I like. I’ll do “Liza With a Z” and “Ring Them Bells.” It’ll be intimate — sometimes I even ask them to turn off the house lights so I can see everybody. There are only six musicians and me. Think that’ll be OK? I’m very excited about it.


You’ve been married four times. Would you ever go there again?

Are you nuts? Are you bananas, woman? Nay!

What do you do for fun when you’re not stretched across a piano?

I date and I go out with my friends. Tomorrow is my 68th birthday, and my friends are taking me out to dinner; I’m going on the “Today” show in the morning, then to dinner at Gallaghers. I have three dogs who are divine, schnauzers, they’re all related. I have a wonderful life.