Liza Minnelli put in a special appearance at last night's Tony Awards. The Oscar winner and Broadway legend took a seat in the third row, right among Tony nominees and their families — people like Sarah Jessica Parker.
Minnelli, who's suffered from myriad health dilemmas in the last few years, looked heavy and is not yet back to her fighting weight. But she told me during one of the commercial breaks that she's back in New York for a while after a lengthy stay in Florida.
She talked about going out to visit her sister Lorna Luft at a musical performance she recently gave in Westhampton, New York.
"She was great, and I had a wonderful time," Minnelli told me. Would she ever do a show with Luft, a sister act? "You've given me a great idea!" she said. "I would love to do that."
The attitude is much changed from Minnelli's pre-illness stance with Luft. The two had fallen out over what Liza considered Lorna's cashing in on their mother’s life with a book and mini-series. Their mother, of course, was Judy Garland.
Minnelli was in a sea of bold-face names up front at the Tonys, which were held in Radio City Music Hall. The awards show was hailed as maybe the best of all Tony shows in recent memory. It got A-plus for its production values and brevity, not to mention its hosts, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, of The Producers. That show won 12 Tonys, breaking the old record of 10 awards set by Hello, Dolly! in 1964.
The buzz surrounding The Producers was so loud that the show won eight awards during the first hour. Lane and Broderick were absolutely dead-on hysterical with their parody of Masterpiece Theatre as they sat in high-backed leather chairs. Later, when they reappeared, Broderick was especially good as he bounced gentle insults off Lane.
But all the frivolity had a price: At the very end of the CBS broadcast, Lane — in an effort to quiet the obstreperous Mel Brooks and sign off— did an unexpected pratfall across the stage. The result: near injury.
"Nathan didn't hurt himself exactly," said a friend who explained Lane's early departure from the post-parties, "but he said he should go home and take a hot bath right away. That hurt."
Brooks told me, "I had no idea he was going to do that. It was very funny, though."
In fact, some of the funniest stuff of the night occurred during that last commercial break, with the entire cast and all of the producers of The Producers on stage.
Brooks said to Lane, "Do I say goodnight?" Lane responded: "No, I'm going to say goodnight, and you're going to stand over there" — pointing off-camera. At which point Brooks began to riff off a series of jokes machine-gun fast, causing Lane to try to re-steal the scene with his fall. Brooks then dropped one of his Tonys and quipped, "You broke it!"
Minnelli, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and movie-musical legend Ann Miller, as well as Broderick's wife, Sarah Jessica Parker, were among those cracking up before the commercial break was over.
Remember Marthe Keller? A great beauty, she was Al Pacino's girlfriend from the mid-1970s to the early '80s (when he wasn't with Diane Keaton). She was nominated for her role in the current production of Judgment at Nuremberg. Before the show, we talked while her companion — lively P.R. king Bobby Zarem — attended to some last minute details.
"Al is a great friend now," she said. "We went through that year of transition after we broke up. He's much better as a friend. He calls me all the time. He called today to wish me good luck."
Keller, who had a run of interesting films with Marathon Man, Bobby Deerfield, Fedora, and Black Sunday, has been such a hit in Judgment, that she's moved to New York from Paris.
"I have three offers right now for plays, and a number of other things are happening. I'm back," she said. Remarkably, she looks not much different than when she left.
I don't think anyone really knows how old Ann Miller is, and I'm not going to be the one to find out. But there she was, walking up the aisle with perfect posture, with her trademark hair curl on her face.
Her manager, who accompanied her, told me: "Ann is going out on the road in 2002 with a one-woman show, a retrospective of her career." All I can say is, bravo! I don't know how she has the energy.
Matthew Broderick's wife identified herself from the stage as "Mrs. Leo Bloom," which was cute. But Sarah Jessica Parker is also Carrie Bradshaw, the main character from HBO's Sex and the City. Between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. last night, Sex and the Tonys were on head-to-head. Was she worried?
"I hope by now, people have turned to the Tony's," Sarah said around 10:05pm. She wasn't being disloyal to HBO, but hey, after all….
When I responded that most people in the country had probably watched S&C's big double-episode premiere, she replied: "Really? That makes me feel so good when I hear it. I have no idea if the audience is still there."
She needn't worry.
Lily Tomlin, whose one woman show lost to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest for best revival, told me: "I wanted to win. It would have been nice"….
Michele Lee, of The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, who lost to Viola Davis of King Hedley II, said: "She deserved it. When I heard that speech about her family, I told her that's what I would have said. I also told her I wanted to break her knee caps!"….
Rocco Landesmann, producer of The Producers, is against the idea of Mel Brooks making another of his movies into a musical. "The last thing to do is turn Young Frankenstein into a musical. He should write a totally new show instead." My guess is Mel agrees….
Anne Bancroft, Brooks's wife, confirmed the story he told from the stage. "I told him to go into his room and come out after an hour with songs for The Producers. It took him four months, but he did it"….
Cady Huffman, the beauty and newly minted Tony winner, entering The Producers after-party at the Bryant Park Grill and getting a rousing ovation from everyone. She said, "Hey, I like this!"….
Henry Winkler, yes a.k.a. The Fonz, getting ready to return to L.A. after a good run on Broadway in Neil Simon's The Dinner Party. He'll be succeeded in the role by Jon Lovitz….
Looking glamorous: syndicated columnist Liz Smith, with pals Joe Armstrong, movie producer Jon Hart, and ABC News's Cynthia McFadden....
More from the Tonys tomorrow, with news about Juliette Binoche and others….
I was impressed and grateful that our cousins at the New York Post seem to be reading foxnews.com. On Sunday, they followed up this column's story from last Thursday, "Rudy's Book Could Be Donna's Windfall."
Indeed, that $3 million book advance will have to be split between the couple when their assets are divvied up. Kudos and thanks, though, to Page Six for crediting fox411 yesterday with news of the new annotated thirtysomething reruns.