Liza Minnelli came back last night with a bang. She performed three songs at the New York City Living Landmarks dinner, wowed the crowd, and was lucid, focused, and fun. In other words: Liza is back. David Gest is just a memory.
In fact, when Minnelli came out on stage, the first thing she did was make a sly self-effacing remark alluding to Gest.
"Let's forget all that stuff," she said, and launched right into "Liza with a Z" in honor of its composers, John Kander and Fred Ebb. The pair were among those being saluted in the Plaza Hotel grand ballroom as living legends.
Our pal, the ageless Liz Smith — looking smart in a cool camel jacket — hosted the event, which also honored Elaine Stritch, Pete Peterson of the Blackstone Group, Victor Gotbaum and Louise and Henry Grunwald.
A real who's who of New Yorkers were on hand to enjoy the festivities, including writer Gay Talese and his wife, famous editor Nan; director Robert Altman and wife Kathryn; and a gaggle of regulars who came to salute the other award winner of the night, restauranteur Elaine Kaufman.
Elaine, in her own typical generous way, accepted her award with few words.
"This is for George Plimpton, who should have gotten it," she said of her recently deceased friend.
But in the end, it was the surprise appearance of Minnelli that made the night. With Kander and Ebb sitting on stage with the band, she told the composers of "Cabaret," "New York, New York," and other Minnelli hits, "You gave me my life."
After "Liza with a Z," Minnelli spoke cogently about the pair, following her speech with "The World Goes 'Round" and "New York, New York."
Altman, who's directed a lot of musical performances in his day, said, "That took real courage. She was just great. It was as if she were performing in her living room for friends."
Minnelli told me when she came off the stage: "I was nervous. I had a lump in my throat I was so emotional for them. Did you hear it?"
Nope. In fact her voice sounded richly textured. Even though she favored the midrange on the songs, every bit of her instrument sounded intact and ready to go.
Liza is back, and the crowd — a bunch of very jaded, savvy New Yorkers in tuxedos — gave her a well-earned standing ovation when she was done. Liza, you see, is a living landmark too.
"I was an abused kid. This is not something I have chosen not to dwell on in my public life. This sounds trite, like an 'ET' sound bite ... the details are not important. What is important is that I had, supposedly, dealt with the fallout in therapy. How naïve I was. Abuse is an ongoing saga for everyone who has lived through it ... It may stop and start in real time, but in mind-time it goes on forever."
That's Rosie O'Donnell from her book, "Find Me."
How naïve she was, indeed. O'Donnell got a taste of living through her abuse again yesterday in court when her former marketing director, Cindy Spengler, announced from the witness stand that O'Donnell had a childhood secret.
It was a smart move for Spengler and former Rosie publishers Gruner + Jahr. They were trying to divert attention from the real issues of the case at hand — editorial control, circulation numbers — and humiliate O'Donnell at the same time.
Bravo! Of course, anyone who's read O'Donnell's memoir, "Find Me," knows the quotation cited above. Motherless, in a big family, O'Donnell was abused by a male family member when she was young. She's never called attention to it. Thanks to Spengler, though, headlines will be blaring the news on Thursday.
What's really important from Wednesday's testimony, though, is about the actual case. G+J publisher Dan Brewster, whose cross-examination continues Thursday morning, testified that he wasn't certain about the level of editorial control O'Donnell had in her agreement with the company.
Judge Ira Gammerman, bewildered by this answer, asked him: "You did sign this agreement, didn't you?"
Brewster's lack of a decisive answer to this question, and to how much veto control O'Donnell had over the editorial content of Rosie magazine, may be the turning point in this increasingly personal and contentious trial.
J Records knows what it's doing most of the time, but if they don't release Wyclef Jean's "Take Me As I Am" to radio ASAP, I think they're making a big mistake.
"Take Me" comes late in Wyclef's new CD, "Preacher's Son," but it's the most joyous pop/R&B song I've heard in years. "Joyous" is not a word you hear much in hip-hop circles, but that's what "Preacher's Son" is, unabashedly so.
The album, which just hit stores this past Tuesday, is full of terrific duets, cameos and guest shots. It's also full of music, all of it composed by Wyclef. There is almost no sampling.
Right away, this is against the norm. To think: an album of original music, all properly composed! But I've told you before, Wyclef Jean is the heir to Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley.
This is hard to take in an era when Beyoncé's big hit, "Crazy in Love," is actually grafted from a Chi-Lites record from 1969. Kids don't know that. They think Beyoncé and Jay-Z came up with that horn section that drives the record. I can only say: go listen to the Chi-Lites' "Are You My Woman?" on their greatest hits.
You will not find any of the music on "Preacher's Son" on a 30-year-old record. It's all new. It's also pretty damn insightful. I'm particularly taken with a song called "Baby Daddy," which I thought was titled "The Stepfather Dance," a neat paean to men who are responsibly bringing up other people's children in mixed families.
Some other cuts you will find yourself humming: "Class Reunion," "I Am Your Doctor," "3 Nights in Rio" featuring Carlos Santana and "Rebel Music" featuring Prodigy.
Of course, the album's more promoted highlights are "Celebrate" with Patti LaBelle and "Party to Damascus" with Missy Elliott.
But who is Wyclef and why is he so damn important? He was the founder of the now-disbanded Fugees, which also featured Lauryn Hill and Pras. But Hill has lost her mind, and Pras has drifted away.
Wyclef would do well to release the idea of a Fugees reunion from his mind. He refers to them too often in his music. Can you imagine if all those Beatles solo albums had harped on a possible reunion?
Wyclef doesn't realize that he is now bigger than the Fugees. His strengths lie in a tremendous facility for writing catchy, memorable songs and playing a wicked Hendrix-like guitar.
"Preacher's Son" doesn't ignore rap, however. Wyclef is famous for his "free-style" raps which are topical politically but rarely contain vulgarisms. He's not squeaky clean, but he understands the power of language that doesn't shock. His rhymes are all the more intriguing because of it.
Listen: You can say there's no good new music, or nothing of value in hip-hop or today's R&B. Or you can go out and buy "The Preacher's Son." Do it, or don't complain there's nothing new to listen to.