A Legendary Spotlight : Camelot Theatre’s Tribute to Liza Minnelli
In spite of her decades of music and film work, and pedigree as a Hollywood icon—the daughter of Judy Garland and goddaughter of Ira Gershwin—Liza Minnelli remains somewhat an enigma. She has set foot on many Broadway stages (where she won her first Tony at 19), and recorded stacks of best-selling albums, and seared performances on some of the 1970s most notable films. Yet, in spite of her public life, she remains as difficult to capture as a burning meteoroid.
Perhaps the kaleidoscope of performances and considerations of her career by Camelot Theatre in June will help. Over the past decade, Camelot Theatre has hosted roughly 30 productions of Spotlight On; averaging three to four annually. Written by Cathy Noah and directed by Priscilla Quinby, Thursday through Sunday of the first two weeks in June, Camelot Theatre’s Spotlight On brings a representation of Minnelli to the stage.
“The people that are the subject [of Spotlight On], their lives are inspiring,” says Quinby. “They have always had to overcome sometimes tremendous obstacles. There’s always things about their lives that are inspiring, remarkable.”
Quinby herself has acted in a few Spotlight On productions, such as Merry Martin, the Andrew Sisters, and Peggy Lee, which she wrote and starred in. Predominantly an actress, Quinby began directing Spotlight On productions nearly five years ago, when Camelot Theatre moved to its current location on Talent Avenue.
“It’s much more a tribute to [Liza Minnelli],” she explains. “We [usually] think of the person’s body of work, but when you think about all that she had to overcome in order to produce that kind of work, then it’s even more impressive. [It] gives the performers a chance to really discover what was the special quality about the person singing.”
The performance will provide a sampling of Minelli’s long career, including scenes from Maybe This Time, Liza with a Z, and her career-defining and Academy Award winning performance in Cabaret. Two actresses will portray Minnelli: Rose Passione will perform the first weekend, and Kristen Calvin will perform the second.
“What I find a little less daunting is that we’re not mimicking her,” Passione says. “It’s more like we are bringing her story and her personality out, but I still get to be me.” That, says Passione, takes some of the pressure off the performance, as it is more a tribute than trying to mimic the versatile and memorable acting chops of Minelli.
Passione says she understands Minnelli in a whole new way through her opportunity to portray her. “You hear these songs and see these movies she was in,” she says, “and knowing her personal story through all that brings it to a whole new level.”
Daughter of actress Judy Garland and director Vincente Minnelli, Minnelli grew up in Hollywood’s celebrity-filled culture. Her talents in singing and acting not only brought her fame in the 60s and 70s, but very public conflicts and temptations as well; she infamously partied hearty with the likes of Andy Warhol and Bianca Jagger, and bounced through rehab faster than Amy Winehouse. Yet these struggles perhaps make Minneli more approachable and mortal, and set in place an inherent conflict in her life.
Passione is excited to portray Minnelli’s boldness. “It’s fun just to bring her story out and get to kind of introduce her to people who have known her for years,” she says. “She was very sassy. She was very playful. She just let it all out. I can tease or make a joke out of some lines I’m given, and just bring out the humor in it is really fun.”
Revealing a character’s good and bad sides create a humanistic dimension. Spotlight On isn’t just a tribute to Minnelli’s musical contributions, but a tribute to her as a human. Personifying someone so “sassy,” someone who struggled with substance and alcohol abuse, someone you overcame obstacles and continues to thrive as a beloved Hollywood icon, makes Minnelli an ideal character for Spotlight On.
Spotlight On Liza Minnelli
2 & 8 pm, Thurs – Sun, through June 12
Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave, Talent
$22, June 2
$29, June 3 – 12