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Liza Minnelli plans an informal evening for Segerstrom audience

Liza Minnelli plans an informal evening for Segerstrom audience
Actress-singer Liza Minnelli in concert at the Hollywood Bowl in 2009. She and pianist and singer Michael Feinstein will perform Saturday in Costa Mesa. (Mark J. Terrill / AP)

Liza Minnelli could work with any musician she chooses — anyone at all, really.

But for her upcoming show at the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, the Tony-, Golden Globe- and Oscar-winning legend had only one collaborator in mind.

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“Michael [Feinstein] is one of the best musicians I know,” Minnelli said of the longtime performer and record producer, who will join her on stage Saturday at Segerstrom. “We have performed together off and on since 1985, and I feel safe with him.

“Sometimes, when he is at the piano, he psychically knows what I’m going to do before I do.”

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Minnelli met Feinstein when he was working under her godfather, composer Ira Gershwin. Feinstein also knew Minnelli’s father, filmmaker Vincente Minnelli.

For their joint performance, Minnelli said Feinstein will perform solo for the first half, after which she will join him for “conversation and music.” She stressed that, after a lifetime of minutely structured performances, she wanted this concert to be rather less formal.

“It’ll be like we’re in the living room sitting around the piano having fun,” Minnelli said. “The kind of show I’ve always wanted to do, because some of the most fun I’ve ever had musically has been at Hollywood parties where the atmosphere leads you into … unexpected places.”

This wish for a casual atmosphere was born of the legendary star’s experiences growing up the daughter of a vaunted filmmaker and even more legendary mother, Judy Garland.

“I grew up with my parents having parties where I would sneak in and listen as a little girl,” Minnelli recalls of those midcentury soires. “When my father discovered I was doing that at the age of 3, he taught me to sing ‘Love for Sale,’ which he thought was hysterical. My mother didn't think it was quite as funny.”

Garland died of a barbiturates overdose at age 47 on June 22, 1969. Her daughter was only 23 and just starting to emerge from her mother’s long shadow.

Minnelli, now 72, also believes that Garland’s well-publicized problems with drugs and various physical and mental health issues overshadowed the well-rounded woman she was.

“She was a wonderful human being who had her struggles, but also was a great mother, a good cook and an empathetic person who also was a once-in-a-lifetime talent,” Minnelli said. “She wasn’t tragic, she was human.”

Minnelli followed Garland’s path to music and movies and, in 1972, received a best actress Oscar for Bob Fosse’s ominous realization of the stage musical “Cabaret,” which takes place in prewar Germany just as the Nazi machine takes inexorable hold.

“We were lucky to be filming in Germany, so far away from Hollywood, so Fosse could do what he wanted without interference from the studio,” Minnelli said, calling the venerable director and choreographer “fearless and uncompromising.”

In fact, so exacting was Fosse of his vision, he brought his leading lady to tears over the blocking of the number “Money, Money.”

“He staged ‘Money, Money’ three times and kept telling me that I wasn’t sexual enough,” Minelli said. "I started crying because I couldn't seem to give him what he wanted. But finally we got it. My father was a director, and I learned that you had to trust the man in charge. Fosse called the film the ‘Nifty Nazi Follies’ because we all needed comic relief from this terrifying story we were filming.”

Lighter fare followed in the 1980s, notably when Minnelli co-starred with Dudley Moore in the darkly comedic “Arthur,” about a wealthy — and perpetually inebriated — bachelor who falls for Minnelli’s working-class New Yorker.

Like Minnelli, Moore also had musical chops, and was known to amuse his friends and collaborators with impressions of such other pianists as Erroll Garner.

Minnelli kept in touch with Moore long after the 1989 “Arthur” sequel, but she recalled how Moore’s progressive supranuclear palsy, a disease that affected his movement, voice and speech in the years before his 2002 death, had the unfortunate side effect of gravely modifying his stage presence.

“I went to see him perform once in New Jersey,” she said. “It was so sad because … people thought he was drunk. They were booing him off the stage. I went backstage, and he told me that he was sick. I only got to see him once after that to say goodbye.”

‘Arrested Development’ introduces new fans

A whole new generation got to know Minnelli thanks to her recurring role as Lucille Austero on the black comedy “Arrested Development,” in which she played the chief rival of Bluth family matriarch Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walters).

“I couldn’t resist creating Lucille,” Minnelli said, proudly adding she did all of her own stunt work on the show, which is set in Newport Beach.

Minnelli said she will treat the Segerstrom audience to a more relaxed and intimate show than the arena-filling performances for which she is known. The catalog will include old favorites, as well as what she calls “chair” songs, wherein she will act or tell a story from a seated position next to Feinstein at the piano.

The chanteuse says she remains vigilant of her dietary habits and vocal exercises to maintain the dynamism audiences expect.

Asked if “Over the Rainbow,” her mother’s signature tune, will appear on the program, Minnelli hedges, saying only “It’s been done.”

With a 50-year career under her belt, Minnelli is happy to be able to choose where and when she will next perform — if at all. She says she is now just as happy to spend time away from the limelight with family and friends.

“Every day I wake up and say to myself, ‘What do I have to do today? Nothing,’” she said. “Then I smile, give a big sigh of relief and relax.

“Honey, after over 50 years of hard work, I’m in no hurry to do anything, even if they offered me the lead in ‘Hamilton.’”

If You Go

What: Liza Minnelli and Michael Feinstein: In Conversation and Performance

When: 7:30 p.m. June 30

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: Tickets start at $49

Information: (714) 556-2787 or scfta.org.

Eric Althoff is a contributor to Times Community News.

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