United in Song

Joined at the hip. That’s how longtime friends Liza Minnelli and Michael Feinstein describe their bond. Chalk it up to the stars — the Hollywood kind.
After all, Minnelli ranks as second-generation showbiz royalty, as the daughter of legendary performer Judy Garland and equally legendary director Vincente Minnelli. (She celebrates her 72nd birthday March 12.)
But Minnelli’s made a name for herself — several times over — on stage and screens large and small.

In 1972, Minnelli won a best actress Oscar for “Cabaret,” which was directed by Bob Fosse, who also oversaw her filmed-live TV special “Liza With a Z,” which captured four Emmys.
She won the first of four Tony Awards for her Broadway debut, 1965’s “Flora the Red Menace,” and another for 1977’s “The Act,” playing a fading movie star hoping for a comeback — in Las Vegas. (Her Tony-winning 2008 concert “Liza’s at the Palace” came to PBS the following year in a special recorded at the MGM Grand.) And in 1990, Minnelli won a Grammy Legend award.
Minnelli’s godfather was another showbiz legend: lyricist Ira Gershwin.

The Gershwin connection extends to singer-pianist Feinstein, who’s billed as “the Ambassador of the Great American Songbook” — and has a foundation devoted to the 20th-century American popular standards that have made him a star.

At age 20, Feinstein began a six-year stint as Gershwin’s assistant, cataloguing his musical archives.
Feinstein and Minnelli first met, Feinstein recalls, “when I was working on the restoration of ‘A Star Is Born,’ ” the 1954 musical (with a Harold Arlen-Ira Gershwin score), which marked Garland’s Hollywood comeback.

“It was kind of like meeting a relative,” he says.

They cemented their friendship during a Christmas party at papa Minnelli’s house.

“Vincente asked me to play, and at one point, Liza sat down at the piano and told me, ‘From now on, we’re joined at the hip,’ ” according to Feinstein.
She soon proved it by becoming a regular at Feinstein’s performances at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood.
“That’s how we became close,” he says. “It was the music that connected us.”

That music — and those memories — inspire their March 30 Reynolds Hall show at The Smith Center, which will mark Minnelli’s Smith Center debut.
“Michael brought up the idea of being his guest at The Smith Center,” Minnelli notes in an email, “and because we’re joined at the hip, I thought it would be fun to be together onstage and do something a little different.”

That “something a little different” will occur in the show’s second half, with Minnelli sharing video clips and conversation, Feinstein says.

“He’s my family,” Minnelli writes of Feinstein, “and this show is about celebrating family, in whatever form it takes in someone’s life.” Minnelli also will sing solo. “And we’ll do something together,” Feinstein says.

The format reflects Minnelli’s desire, after a lifetime in the public eye, to step away from the spotlight. (She made her movie debut, as a toddler, in the final shot of her mother’s 1949 musical, “In the Good Old Summertime.”)

“I’m so lucky to be able to live exactly the kind of life I want, and now it is lovely to be able to take it easy because I’ve been a workhorse all my life,” Minnelli acknowledges. “Liza is at a point where she doesn’t want to perform a lot, but she still has the desire,” Feinstein says. “Every time we’re together, we talk about shows and music.”

For Minnelli, the Smith Center performance ranks as “a way to greet my fans and friends and let them know that I appreciate and love them.”
Minnelli is billed as Feinstein’s “special guest,” which means that Feinstein, 61, will go solo during the evening’s first half.

Among the numbers he plans to perform: a Frank Sinatra medley “that I don’t think I’ve ever done in Vegas,” plus a “a sort of dance version” of the ’30s song, “I Only Have Eyes For You.”

He describes it as “a disco version, for those who were lucky enough to miss the disco era.” (Irony alert: the eponymous New York supper club Feinstein’s/54 Below is located in the basement of the storied disco Studio 54, where Minnelli was a regular during its late-’70s heyday.)

Minnelli and Feinstein have another appearance scheduled in Southern California this fall, “because it’s close to home,” he says.

This month’s Las Vegas date will give Minnelli the chance “to see how she feels and if she likes it,” Feinstein says of her return to the stage.

But Minnelli already knows the answer to that one.

“Performing live is a special experience,” she writes, “and will always be one of my favorite things.”

Michael Feinstein and special guest Liza Minnelli, March 30 at 7:30 p.m. in Reynolds Hall at The Smith Center, $39-$175.

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