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Birthday Girl Liza Minnelli on Cabaret and Arrested Development’s Lucille Two

Liza Minnelli. Photo: Getty Images

Why, happy birthday, Ms. Liza! Today marks the legendary Liza Minnelli’s 67th birthday, and she’s celebrating as only a creature of showbiz could, by performing at Town Hall tomorrow, March 13, and March 14, with none other than Alan Cumming. The Town Hall shows are a reprise of the duo’s instant-classic show this summer at one of Fire Island’s more exuberantly trashy nightclubs — a show that Cumming called “the gayest night in modern history”and that was such a smash they performed an encore show the very next night. Both Minnelli, who won an Oscar for playing Sally Bowles in the Bob Fosse 1972 film version of Cabaret, and Cumming, who won a Tony for playing the Emcee in the musical’s 1998 Broadway revival, have bonded over that connection, and they’ll be performing songs like “Nowadays” at Town Hall. This is a big year for the birthday girl, who’s not only celebrating the 40th anniversary of Fosse’s Cabaret, but is also reprising her role as Lucille Two on the most anticipated television event of the millennium, season four of Arrested Development. Last we’d seen of Lucille Two, she’d spurned both Gob and Buster and sold all of her shares of the Bluth company to Stan Sitwell. Minnelli is under contract not to say anything about season four, but she did talk about vertigo, being beloved by the gays, and performing in Williamsburg (even though she maybe thought it was Williamsburg, Virginia).

What’s the best part about turning 67?
Sixty-seven … I don’t know. You know, half the time, I feel like I’m 12. And the rest of the time, I feel like I’m 80. [Laughs.] So I guess I’m somewhere in between. No, I feel great. I’ve got my health, and that’s the most important thing.

What are you going to do to celebrate on your actual birthday?
I don’t know.

Are you waiting for a surprise?
No, I just haven’t figured it out yet. I haven’t discussed it with anybody but you! [Laughs heartily.] I mean, I think it’s wonderful that I’ll be working with Alan [Cumming]. That’s really my birthday present.

Your upcoming shows at Town Hall stem from a couple of now-legendary shows you and Alan Cumming performed together at the gay club the Ice Palace on Fire Island. How did those shows come about? That’s not your typical venue.
Here’s how it happened, it’s really simple: Alan calls up and says, “You want to do a show with me?” “Sure! Where?” “Fire Island.” “Okay!” I mean, it’s that simple! [Laughs.]

What did you know about Fire Island before you went there?
[Pause.] What do you mean?

Like, had you been?
Oh yeah, but not for a long time! I haven’t been there since, like, the seventies.

When I went to Fire Island this past summer, I got off the boat and there was a line of drag queens dancing to the theme of The Love Boat.
Oh! [Clears throat.] Yeah, that is vaguely startling. [Laughs.]

Was that your experience?
No, it was fun and wonderful and vaguely startling.

You mean just the sheer number of drag queens?
No, just the amount of attention I got!

It was supposed to be a one-time-only experience, but then you ended up doing a second show. Was that always planned?
No, not at all. Not at all! It was just a weekend for fun. And I was with Alan, who I love.

Are you going to do duets from Cabaret together for your Town Hall show?
Oh, yeah, sure, we have to! That’s what connected us. A Cabaret medley.

My friend was at the Fire Island shows and he said that a lot of gay men were in tears because they were so excited to see you there.
Into what, dear?

In tears.
[Incredulously.] In tears?

Crying because they were so thrilled they were in your presence.
My goodness, I had no idea! Well, that’s lovely. Thank you for telling me.

Why do you think the gay community responds so strongly to you?
I don’t know. You know, the male gay community seems to be very into female singers. I think it could be the songs we sing. They’re more open with their feelings. And they have good taste! [Laughs.]

Good taste in songs or with men?
No, just because they like me! [Laughs.]

When you get recognized on the street, what do people come and talk to you about most often?
It’s so nice because people just come up and say, “Thank you for the years of pleasure that you’ve given me,” and, “God, I’m so happy to meet you,” and “I saw you here, there, wherever.” I’ve been doing this a long time. [Laughs.]

But do certain things come up more often than others? Are people still coming up to you for Arthur?
Oh, no. Because Cabaret just got rereleased, right? But it’s always been either about Arthur, Cabaret, or the TV show? Arrested Development.

I mean, it’s thrilling for people who love that show that it’s coming back.
Well, I hope so.

Now, what’s going to happen with Lucille Two?
I am under contract not to tell you! Literally, they made me sign a piece of paper.

How did you work it with the vertigo? You’re just constantly falling over in that show.
I don’t know; I thought it was funny. You know who helped me a great deal with this? Sam Harris. He’s got a great sense of humor, and he’s absolutely brilliant. I was willing to do practically anything for a laugh.

Did you practice how you would fall over?
Oh, yeah! Absolutely. But you know that one where she comes out of the thing for, you know, her balance problem, and she runs to the man and she goes right over his back? Did you see that? Well, it happened naturally. I mean, I said to the guy, “It’s easier on the fall if we do it this way,” and then we just walk back, my legs go up and down. He said, “You’re right.” So we did it that way, my legs went up — a little further than I thought. I thought, Relax and keep going. And that’s how that happened. [Laughs.] And they screamed, you know … the cameraman. It’s a wonderful atmosphere. Hold on one second, dear. [Pause.] Hi, sorry! No, I had to — my dog wanted to come on the bed.

What’s your dog’s name?
Well, I have three of them: Emelina, Oscar, and Blaze.

And are they all the same kind of dog?
Yeah. They are beautiful — oh God, here they come again. Hold on, hold on. [Pause.] Okay, [answering question] schnauzers!

I read that Kristen Wiig is playing a young Lucille One.
Oh, you did? I know nothing about it! They don’t tell me anything about it.

We’re curious if there’s a young Lucille Two.
No. No. But then again, I don’t know.

Who do you think would play a young Lucille Two?
Oh, I have no idea, honey!

What’s been exciting for you about the reissue of Cabaret? Does it look better in Blu-Ray?
I think what’s been exciting for everybody, including the audience and the cast, is how well it stands up. It’s a timeless piece. Somebody said to me, “You know, that could have been made yesterday or tomorrow.” Because of Fosse.

Do you ever look at it and cringe at anything?
No, I don’t.

Or just thinking about being that young and doing that?
Ha! I feel like I did it yesterday. You don’t understand — I am ageless! Truly. There’s nothing — I never think about age. It’s the damndest thing. Except somebody said, “Oh, yeah, doing this right after your birthday. Now it’s a big deal.” I didn’t know that’s what it was gonna be about.

I meant, do you look back on that part and wish you’d had more experience?
No, it’s weird, but you forget certain things and it surprises you at how well it was done with Fosse, coming back to me. Just how brilliant he was. And how funny it was that they sent us to Germany to make a musical about the Nazis. Fosse didn’t have to check in that much with anybody. I’m sure if we had been in Hollywood and he had done some of the things that he thought of, they would have said, “No, no, you can’t do that.” But we were so far away, they sent him a telegram saying, “We don’t know if this will really play,” and he ripped it up in front of the cast and threw it over his shoulder. [Laughs.]

No, that makes sense. Have you seen that there’s a prequel to Oz that’s coming right around now?
No, haven’t heard a thing.

It’s Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful with James Franco and Mila Kunis.
Oh! Great! Whatever.

Would you see it? Is it something that interests you?
Oh, I don’t think I’d run, but I mean, I’m sure if I thought it was interesting. So, where do you live?

I live in Williamsburg.
Oh, wow! That’s beautiful. I played there, ha!

You did? Where? [Editor’s note: I’m pretty sure she thought I was talking about Williamsburg, Virginia, but isn’t the thought of Liza playing at a club in hipster Williamsburg, Brooklyn, kind of amazing?]
Sure, I played Williamsburg. I can’t remember, darling, but you name it, I played there. That’s why I’m so excited about performing with Alan.

Because of Williamsburg?
No, no, because of all the places that I’ve been and the people I’ve worked with, and now to be doing this with Alan just because we did one show together and it became so talked about that they asked us to do it on Broadway.

And what is changing from the Fire Island show to the one you’re gonna be doing at Town Hall?
Well, quite a lot. Because the Fire Island one was just sort of “Yeah, okay, well, I’ll just go up there with him and whatever.” But this one is more planned because we’re both pros.

Well, of course you are.
PR says interview is done.
Well, thank you, honey, it was so nice talking to you!

Thank you so much.
And say hello to Williamsburg for me.

Liza Minnelli on Cabaret and AD’s Lucille Two