Ensconced in a huge New York hotel suite along with a small retinue and her adorably pesky miniature schnauzer, Liza Minnelli is perky despite a heavy schedule of interviews about the newly remastered Liza with a Z, her 1972 concert special. Directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse and written by John Kander and Fred Ebb (Cabaret), the show, which debuts on Showtime on April 2, won four Emmys. On the cusp of her 60th birthday, the singer-dancer-actress reminisces about the making of the show, how it looks today and how her mother Judy Garland helped her conquer her stage fright.
TVGuide.com: It's great to meet you. I go way back with you.
Liza Minnelli: So you remember [my professional stage debut] Best Foot Forward?
TVGuide.com: I remember when you were a kid and visited your mom's TV show!
Minnelli: [Laughs] That's wonderful.
TVGuide.com: I hear you got a standing O when Liza with a Z played at the Toronto Film Festival.
Minnelli: Yeah! They applauded after every number as if they were at the theater. [At a Showtime shindig a few days later, the Radio City Music Hall audience did the same.] We all worked so hard to do it. The original, shot in 16 mm, was shown three times on television. I was lucky enough to have a lawyer smart enough to make sure that I owned it. We only did the show once, and I fell in love with Bob Fosse's edit. I even forgot that he had to take out "Mein Herr." We put it back in the new DVD [which arrives in stores April 4].
TVGuide.com: So how did the remastered version come about?
Minnelli: Seven years ago, my friend Michael Arick, the great editor and film restorer, called and asked if he could work on the show a little. I said "Sure." Six years later, he called and said, "You gotta look at it now." Fosse's applauding in heaven because now you can see what he shot, you can see what every brilliant dancer is doing, the way he staged everything. This is the finest stage work and film direction that I've ever seen. And it was the first one-woman filmed special ever done.
TVGuide.com: What came back to you when you saw the special after so many years?
Minnelli: I remember doing it! We rehearsed for five or six weeks. We were all so nervous. I remember thinking that all these wonderful people have done all this wonderful work and now it's my turn to come through. I was standing backstage all by myself when that curtain went up. I never told this to anybody, but I remember that my knee started to tremble a little bit. Then when I heard "Ladies and gentlemen, Liza Minnelli!" I started to walk forward and I was scared! So I got a mental picture that at either shoulder was my father [Vincent Minnelli] and my mother, and in back of them, Fred, John, Bobby [and musical arranger] Marvin Hamlisch, and in back of them, my godfather Ira Gershwin and my godmother Kay Thompson [author of the Eloise books]. I felt like I was in a flying wedge and I wasn't alone. I was bred for that evening! If I wasn't going to be good that night, I might as well stay home. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: And did you feel good at the end?
Minnelli: At the end of it, I asked Bobby, "How was I?" He said, "I don't know." He had been pacing in the back somewhere. And Fred was stoned. [Giggles] He said, "I'll see the rushes and I'll call you." I'm so proud to have been Fosse's muse and Fred and John's.
TVGuide.com: Which number from the show was your favorite?
Minnelli: God! What can you say? Dance-wise every number is a lost Fosse masterpiece. I think "I Gotcha" is funny. It's sexy, it's a little dirty, but it's still chic. And that's hard to beat. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: How did Liza with a Z come about?
Minnelli: NBC asked me to do a TV special. I said, "I won't do it unless Fred Ebb produces and writes it." And Fred said, "I won't do it unless Bob Fosse directs it." And then Bob said, "I won't do it unless we can do it live in a theater in performance, which has never been done. And on film." And everybody agreed to everything. Then Fosse let them know that they wouldn't see it until the night we did it. And Singer [our sponsor], too. Every time people from the network or Singer came around, he'd say, "Go take a 10-minute break." He wouldn't go back to it until they left.
TVGuide.com: So what were your demands?
Minnelli: I never made demands. I knew I wanted to wear a white suit, and I told Halston and he made it with a top cut down to there. On the day of the show, a network standards lady had somehow gotten into the theater. I was in the "Cabaret" sequence and she said "Stop! You can't wear those costumes. You're too naked." There wasn't a bra within 50 miles. [Giggles] Fosse and Fred and Halston took her into an office somewhere. When she came out, she looked prettier and relaxed. I said, "Is it going to be all right?" And she said, "Yes, it's fashion." They had conned this woman!
TVGuide.com: I hear you changed into those skimpy costumes in an appropriate kind of place.
Minnelli: [The night of the show] 5 pm came and I didn't have time to go home to get my hair cut and do my nails. So someone said to go to the hotel across the street and get a room. We got on the elevator, and a man and a lady got in. She was wearing thigh-high boots, black fishnet stockings, hot pants, a red feather boa and a crop top. It was a hooker! In the room, I looked out the window and in front of the theater were people in tuxedos and evening gowns sipping champagne and I was in a hooker hotel! I thought... moments like this make life so great.
TVGuide.com: Did you realize what a classic you were creating?
Minnelli: No! There are a lot of times when you get the best people and for some reason it doesn't work. That worked. And everybody loves it.
TVGuide.com: Do you do commentary on the new Liza with a Z DVD?
Minnelli: I narrate the whole thing. It also has an interview with John Kander.
TVGuide.com: Elaine Stritch and Chita Rivera have done one-woman autobiographical shows on Broadway. How about an all-about Liza Minnelli show?
Minnelli: Everybody knows about Liza. I couldn't go through that every night, it bores the hell out of me!
TVGuide.com: Will we see you on Dancing with the Stars?
Minnelli: I've been dancing with the stars forever! [Cracks up] I was madly in love with George Hamilton, when he was making Home from the Hill with my father directing. I was only 12 or 13, and he taught me how to do the cha-cha. He would take me dancing. He's also the first person I ever remember saying "Sing something." My mother always said "dance." And I was always dancing.
TVGuide.com: Who was the Liza we see in Liza with a Z?
Minnelli: The Liza with a Z. Me in a room with you is different! I'm a little raunchier. She wouldn't swear on stage if you paid her, and I'm sitting here swearing like a sailor! They told me that when I'm 65 I can say anything I want to say. And I'm just rehearsing for 65.
TVGuide.com: So what's up next for you?
Minnelli: I have a new album, I have a short tour. I'm going to play the Paris Opera House, the Berlin Opera House, Munich, some places in Switzerland and home. And I'm writing a film that Neil Meron and Craig Zadan are doing.
TVGuide.com: Is stage where your heart is?
Minnelli: I'm lucky enough to be enthusiastic about whatever I'm doing at the time.