Liza Minnelli's New Show Honors Godmother Kay Thompson Kay Thompson was a musical director for MGM Studios, the author of the Eloise children's books and the star of her own long-running nightclub act. Liza Minnelli pays tribute to her real-life godmother in her latest, sold-out revue.

Minnelli's New Show Honors Musical Godmother

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On Tuesday, "Liza's at the Palace" will be released. It's the original cast recording of Liza Minnelli's recent sold-out show on Broadway. And the two CD set is in fact a double showcase because disc one features many of the tunes that made her most famous on stage, including - do we need to tell you this? - "Cabaret."

(Soundbite of "Cabaret")

Ms. LIZA MINNELLI (Singer and Actress): (Singing) Life is a cabaret, old chum. Come to the cabaret.

SIMON: The second disc relives the 1940s nightclub act that was made famous by her godmother, Kay Thompson.

(Soundbite of "Hello, Hello")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Katie Kay Thompson.

Ms. MINNELLI: (Singing) Hello, Hello. Hello and thanks so much. Your greeting is enough to touch my heart.

SIMON: Liza Minnelli joins us from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. MINNELLI: Thank you. Hello, everybody.

(Soundbite of "Hello, Hello")

Ms. MINNELLI: (Singing) And now that all the formalities are through We might as well - Oh, you haven't all met No.

SIMON: Of course, everybody knows, you're the daughter of Vincente Minnelli and Judy Garland but let me get you to talk about Kay Thompson, your godmother.

Ms. MINNELLI: All right.

SIMON: You first.


SIMON: (Laughing)

Ms. MINNELLI: Well, Kay Thompson was Hollywood's secret weapon.

(Soundbite of song "The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe")

Ms. JUDY GARLAND (Actress and Singer): (Singing) What a lovely trip I'm feeling so fresh and alive And I'm so glad to arrive It's all so grand

Ms. MINNELLI: She was the musical director at MGM. So all of those great arrangements that you heard, I guess in the 40s, you know from '44 probably right up till '49, were all Kay Thompson's. So, everything that made you smile really was - was because of her. She taught people how to sing. She arranged things. And the - her vocal arrangements were astounding.

(Soundbite of song "The Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe")

Ms. GARLAND: (Singing) When I ever took a ride on the Santa Fe I would lean across my window sill

SIMON: There's a part of me that - I think one of the best movie songs of all time is "The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe."

Ms. MINNELLI: Me too. Kay Thompson.

SIMON: That was her song.

Ms. MINNELLI: Absolute - that was her arrangement.

SIMON: It was her arrangement, yeah.

Ms. MINNELLI: Absolutely. All of that stuff and - that's Kay.

(Soundbite of "I'm Nobody's Baby")

Ms. GARLAND: (Singing) What a thrill With the wheels a-singin' westward ho Right from the day I heard them start.

Ms. MINNELLI: And like I said. She had been the lady behind the scenes. And suddenly, she did a nightclub act with four guys called the Williams Brothers, one of which was Andy Williams, right? And it knocked everybody off their seat. And she played that run - that night club run for almost 60 weeks. So, Ron Lewis, who is my friend and my director and choreographer and has been since 1970, I asked him, will you - would you help me? Let's try and celebrate Kay Thompson. She was such a huge part of my life.

(Soundbite of "I Love a Violin")

Ms. MINNELLI: (Singing) And when the violin Begins to sob and sigh I look at you and I I've got to fall in love So, honey, hold me close My heart is in a spin.

SIMON: I've read the reviews, and the show on stage that you do, - it requires constant movement. I think the Wall Street Journal said, even the tireless Ms. Minnelli is frequently left gasping for breath. Now you had - what is it - in recent years knee operations, hip replacements?

Ms. MINNELLI: Oh, yeah, I've had everything but, you know, so has practically everybody else. (Laughing). You know, I'm just, you know, I'm fine but I'm disintegrating. (Laughing). No, I think, you know, Kay Thompson did everything in a musical term called "tune". In other words, just to demonstrate for those people who don't know that term. If you're going, (singing) Bugs won't bug, breeze won't breeze, and do won't do, right? That's four. If you're going, (singing) Bugs won't bug, breeze won't breeze, and who won't do, that's two. And she did everything in that pace.

(Soundbite of stage performance)

Ms. MINNELLI: Others may lag, temples may drag but Kay Thompson could never be slowed. So, (singing) let's get this show on the road. Clap your hands, let me (unintelligible) Give me that. Give me that. Give me that crazy mixed up beat. (Scatting)

She was amazing. And, yes, I am left gasping for breath but it's the most joyous exhaustion I have ever experienced

(Singing) Come along and join a two (unintelligible).

SIMON: You have a whole new set of fans - Liza fans you've created by appearing on the show "Arrested Development."

Ms. MINNELLI: Yeah. Isn't that the silliest show you ever saw?

SIMON: What made you do such a show?

Ms. MINNELLI: Well, I - my friend Ron Howard, who I've known since my father directed him in "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," the movie.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. MINNELLI: He called me one day and he said, listen, I think I met one of the few people who knows how really funny you are, and I want you to play a slapstick role. Just - it's out-and-out humor. You don't have to be the straight man, you are the comic part. And I said, sure. I'll do that.

(Soundbite of "Arrested Development")

Ms. MINNELLI: (As Ms. Austero) Buster?

Mr. TONY HALE: (As Byron "Buster" Bluth) Wow, Ms. Austero. What - what are you doing here?

Ms. MINNELLI: (As Ms. Austero) A touch of the disease (laughing).

Mr. HALE: (As Byron "Buster" Bluth) Oh, oh (laughing).

Ms. MINNELLI: I mean this lady has vertigo and, you know, whenever she gets nervous, falls down.

SIMON: Mm-hmm

Ms. MINNELLI: So, the first time that I - I went to shoot the first, you know, episode that I was in, it came time for the line right before I fell down and they said, OK, cut. And they brought in a lot of pads for the floor and a stunt double, and said well, she'll fall down for you. I said, are you kidding? I went to my dance teacher, Luigi, and he taught me 17 different ways to fall down.

SIMON: (Laughing)

(Soundbite of "Arrested Development")

Ms. MINNELLI: (As Ms. Austero) Oh, I'm all right. I'm all right. Ugh!

SIMON: I want to ask you about - a song that's on the - this other disc which is "Liza Minnelli: The Complete A&M Recordings," it's one of my favorites, the Kander and Ebb song "The Happy Time."

Ms. MINNELLI: Oh, yes. Well, you know, I - I have always said that Kander and Ebb really invented me. They wrote "Liza with the Z" for me and gave me my identity.

SIMON: Mmm hmm.

Ms. MINNELLI: You know, everything they wrote for me, I adore singing. "The World Goes 'Round" - like what a song that is! But, you know, everything and the "Happy Time" is well, you'll hear it just makes you happy.

(Soundbite of "Happy Time")

Ms. MINNELLI: (Singing) I'm longing to see you smile And hear you laugh So I can have a photograph and remember you Remembering the happy time

SIMON: Do you listen to Judy Garland music?

Ms. MINNELLI: Not often. It makes me sad.

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. MINNELLI: You know, to other people it's Judy Garland music. That's my mother. And it makes me miss her.

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. MINNELLI: It would be like you had - if you- those of you who've lost a parent, if you had a recording of their voice, even speaking to you and you played it over and over again. It's sentimental.

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. MINNELLI: You know. My mother never wanted me to be sad.

SIMON: Well, it's just been wonderful talking to you. Thanks so much for all of your time.

Ms. MINNELLI: Oh, thank you so much.

SIMON: Liza Minnelli. Her new CD, "Liza's at the Palace" is on Hybrid Recordings and it comes out this Tuesday, speaking with us from New York. Thank you so much for all your time. Nice talking to you.

Ms. MINNELLI: Thank you, sir. Can I ask you to play one thing for me?

SIMON: Of course.

Ms. MINNELLI: Thank you. To kind of close my section because it's everything I've ever wanted to say to an audience.

SIMON: Of course.

Ms. MINNELLI: And if that sounds corny, screw it. (Laughing) I don't care. I'm old enough to say that.

SIMON: Yeah:

Ms. MINNELLI: It's the second song on this album. It was written by Billy Stritch...

SIMON: Uh huh.

Ms. MINNELLI: And Johnny Rodgers and Brian Lane. And you'll hear it now. And it says everything I wanted to say to you all. Thank you very much.

SIMON: That's "I Would Never Leave You"?


SIMON: OK. Thank you so much for all of your time and being so nice.

Ms. MINNELLI: Thank you, honey.

(Soundbite of "I Would Never Leave You")

Ms. MINNELLI: (Singing) The smoke have cleared And look who is out here The same damn dame you've always known I never left and I would never leave you, where would I go? Just know how much I need you I never left and I would never leave you alone

SIMON: You can hear more of our conversation with Liza Minnelli and full music cuts on our website, You know, it's worth going there. This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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