Musicals Blog

Liza Minnelli - From Red Menace to Cabaret Star

by Claire J Rottenberg

Liza Minnelli was born into a show business family, inheriting her mother Judy Garland's musical talent. Her father, Vincente Minnelli, directed many movie musicals, including the Academy Award winning "Gigi." Despite her parents' successful film careers, Liza's own career was launched on New York theater stages.

Minnelli's first role was in the off-Broadway musical "Best Foot Forward" in 1963, when she was only 17. Her performance was well-received and she won the Theatre World Award. Minnelli's next play came two years later on Broadway. Her performance in Kander and Ebb's "Flora the Red Menace" created a sensation and earned her critical acclaim, a Tony award and fame.

Minnelli followed her success in "Flora the Red Menace" with an equally successful film career, beginning in 1967 with the non-musical "Charlie Bubbles." Her next two films, "The Sterile Cuckoo" and "Tell Me that You Love Me, Junie Moon," were also dramatic stories that did not give Minnelli a chance to showcase her musical talents. However, her acting talents were acknowledged with an Academy Award nomination for "The Sterile Cuckoo."

Minnelli's greatest film success came in 1972 with the movie version of the Kander and Ebb musical "Cabaret." Her performance as cabaret performer Sally Bowles earned Minnelli an Academy Award.

Minnelli's other films never reached the success of "Cabaret." Her only other movie musical was another Kander and Ebb work, "New York, New York," in 1977. After a series of failed films, Minnelli went on to a successful concert career, including shows in Las Vegas. She also worked on television and recorded albums. Her efforts in these endeavors were rewarded with an Emmy award in 1972 for her concert special "Liza with a 'Z'" and a Grammy Legend award in 1989.

In the mid-1970s, Minnelli returned to Broadway and once again found success where her career started. Since 1974, she has appeared on Broadway in four plays, twice replacing the original performer (Gwen Verdon in "Chicago" in 1975 and Julie Andrews in "Victor/Victoria" in 1997) and in three concert shows. These returns to her roots resulted in two more Tony awards for Minnelli - a special award in 1974 for her one woman show, "Liza," and in 1977 for her performance in the musical, "The Act."