02/05/2013 10:57 am ET Updated Apr 07, 2013

Liza Minnelli Celebrates Her Classic Cabaret -- and Guess What? -- She Didn't 'Go Like Elsie'

"Tributes! Tributes! Tributes!" cried the actor Robert Morse as Truman Capote in the one-man comedy Tru about the famous writer's later life, written by the late Jay Presson Allen.

Truman, onstage, turns away from his own front door in a mock kind of sardonic response to all the accolades and good will being offered. It's obvious that he'd also be horrified if he were ignored. I suppose that's how we all behave when becoming the center of attention for just a red-hot minute.

So if I haven't yet thanked you for your birthday cards, your flowers, your photos, your gifts, your wine, your lottery scratch-off tickets, your cakes, your candles, your lunches and dinners, your checks for my various charities. Please be patient, I will.

But it occurs to me I haven't done anything to deserve so much attention, merely by surviving. I have to be truthful and say that "tributes" to me were offered because of fate. I didn't have anything to do with the fact that I was born on Groundhog Day in 1923, back when America was still young.

The reality seems to have been that in 1922, Sloan Smith and Elizabeth McCall fell into a fit of romantic lovemaking one May day and their good genes combined to a desired result. They produced three sons and one lucky daughter, all born in either February or March. Those May days in Ennis and/or Ft. Worth, Texas were magic for them.

None of my brothers have survived me, all leaving this earth from sudden illnesses or accidents. I am the remaining one. I feel lucky to still be living and working in the greatest city in the world, to be telephoned by the mayor personally on my day, to have so many close friends and to have almost all of my dreams come true.

But I do want to share with you my birthday "horoscope" from the New York Post on Feb. 2. It reads frankly and to the point:

"The old always gives way to the new, so there really is no point holding on to what even you can now see is past its sell-by-date. Take a few risks and move with the times. What have you got to lose?"

Indeed -- what? Love to all of you who thought so well of me at this time.

PLEASE DO me a favor if you believe in movies -- read Frank Rich's current cover article in New York magazine, with his thoughts of how the filmmakers of Zero Dark Thirty... Argo... Lincoln and Django, to their credit (each film is up to win best Oscar), reaffirms his faith in cinema. He cites their flawed historical and fictionalized roles and their deeper meaning.

Frank's article, "How Django Renewed My Faith in America," is classic. I said the same thing after I saw this movie, though not tellingly, or as well as Mr. Rich.

He feels these four Oscar nominees "all reflect the fractured state of our union" and that the Quentin Tarantino movies "actually tries to unite us."

  • "SO, WE were in Munich and there was this old woman helping with the costumes. Everything she did for me had shoulder pads. But the movie is set in 1933, and shoulder pads didn't come in till the 1940s. But she was determined to give me shoulders. Finally, I said, 'Forgive me, weren't shoulder pads after the war?' She paused and looked at me and replied, totally deadpan, 'Vat war?'"

    That was Liza Minnelli, the other night at the Ziegfeld Theater, reminiscing about making her classic movie Cabaret. Minnelli's "Vat war?" brought down the house. She is a divine, natural born story-teller. (Well, she always says, "I don't consider myself a singer so much as a story-teller.")

    Liza, Michael York, Joel Grey and Marisa Berenson all sat down with TCM's Robert Osborne for a little Q&A before the film began. (TCM and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment hosted the night, celebrating the 40th anniversary of Cabaret's premiere at the Ziegfeld itself.)

    Liza and her co-stars were in fine, merry fettle, as was the audience. Let me say I have attended many premieres at the Ziegfeld. But I have never in my life seen the huge theater as crowded as it was for the screening of this four-decade-old movie. Not only was there literally not a seat to be had, but hundreds had to be turned away outside. This was indeed a special event and Miss Minnelli retains her star power, that's for sure. (The crowd was so great it was almost scary as they exited after the film ended. It is said the old Roman Coliseum could empty 50,000 spectators in 15 minutes. No such luck at the Ziegfeld! For a few pressed-together seconds I regretted not having watched a gladiatorial combat rather than a Bob Fosse movie.)

    How does Cabaret -- soon out on Blu-ray -- hold up? Very well indeed. It was innovative in every way, beautifully photographed, and retains powerful impact in its depiction of Germany as the Nazis infiltrate. ("Tomorrow Belongs to Me," a sweet ballad that slowly morphs into an aggressive, rousing war cry, remains one of the most chilling scenes ever put on film.)

    But more than anything, Cabaret enshrines forever Miss Minnelli at the peak of her powers, in the role she was born to play. Everything Liza is capable of as an actress is here in the "divinely decedent" form of Sally Bowles -- the euphoric, desperate joy, pathos (those huge, incredible eyes brimming with tears), sly wit, sensuality. And there was the clarion call of her voice, urging us not to "sit alone in our rooms!" Never have a singer and songwriters been so perfectly in sync as Minnelli/Fred Ebb/John Kander.

    Liza fully deserved her Oscar -- as did Joel Grey, the perverse "emcee" of the tawdry Kit-Kat Club. Liza was perhaps too specific in her manner and look to take that Oscar on to a more successful film career. (Her aching, open quality was a hard sell in the gritty 1970s.) She became -- and remains -- a great concert star, driving her audiences to a frenzy of worship. She is visceral, a force of nature -- a splendid survivor.

    Afterward, Liza and her group went to the Empire Room to celebrate a bit. She was very happy about the evening. She loves the movie, and considers it the crown jewel of her career.

    P.S. And don't forget the Liza/Alan Cumming concert at Town Hall on March 13th, the day after Liza's birthday, on the 12th. (Alan, along with Phyllis Newman and Bernadette Peters were among the celebs in attendance at the Ziegfeld.)