If you’ve been watching “Fosse/Verdon” on FX, you’ve seen several scenes in which Bob Fosse directs the movie version of “Cabaret,” for which he won an Oscar. In total, the film won eight gold statuettes, including Best Actress for Liza Minnelli, who never starred in the Broadway version (Jill Haworth was the original Sally Bowles). I had already taken notice of her in the 1969 movie “Sterile Cuckoo,” but was blown away by her performance in “Cabaret” (and was glad to see her get good notices again nine years later when she co-starred with Dudley Moore in “Arthur.”
As the FX show noted, Fosse also won Emmys for directing and choreographing “Liza With A Z,” her performance special filmed in a packed Broadway theater in 1972 and broadcast on NBC. It was rerun in 1973, but then disappeared for three decades until Liza mentioned to someone that she still had the master copy and wanted it restored. She made a deal with the head of Showtime, which paid for the restoration and ran it on the cable network several times.
Through all of that, I had never seen the special until my wife and I found and watched it on YouTube last night. Since Minnelli had become almost a parody of herself in the 1980s and 1990s, we were pleasantly surprised at how good her performance was in the 1972 show, both as a singer and dancer (doing the characteristic Fosse motions with her chorus boys).
One thing that mystified me, however, was whether Minnelli was lip-syncing some of the songs to her own pre-recorded track. That would seem odd in a theatrical setting (this wasn’t “American Bandstand” or “Soul Train”), but for several of the tunes, she used a wired microphone, either in her hand or on a stand. But when she was singing and dancing, how did they capture her voice? She was not wearing a lavalier or a headset or one of those mikes modern-day performers can hide in their hair or wig. Wireless mikes weren’t in widespread use in 1972, and there was no battery pack/transmitter visible on Minnelli. She certainly had a big enough voice to fill a Broadway theater unamplified, but that would not be good enough for a filmed television special. You can watch the whole 50-minute special here and see for yourself. If you come up with an answer, let me know.
If you don’t have time for the whole thing, watch this instead. Before Minnelli finished her concert with a medley from “Cabaret,” written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, she did several other songs, including one piece of special material they wrote for the occasion, which gave the show its title. It’s a very clever little piece of songwriting and performing…