Kay! With a Z!

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:13

    MANY OF US remember Kay Thompson as the author of the series of children’s books that narrated the adventures of Eloise, a hyperactive kid living at the Plaza Hotel—Thompson’s actual residence—who was rumored to have been inspired by the antics of her goddaughter, Liza. Yes, that Liza. As in Minnelli. 

    And this week, the iconic (and often polemic, some may say) singer and Oscar-winning actress returns to Broadway with Liza’s At The Palace, a two-hour-plus, song-filled show that pays tribute to Thompson, a highly creative force who had a long and fruitful career as a musical arranger and vocal coach for the likes of Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland.

    “Kay Thompson was my godmother, and to tell you the truth, I think she was the best gift that my parents ever gave me,” says Minnelli. “Because to the day she died she was there for me and she was wonderful, filled with imagination and different from anyone else. Just cerebral, harmonious and hilarious—and musically she changed history.”

    “She was a well-known inside person. Gordon Thompson said he learned everything from Kay, and [legendary music producer] Nelson Riddle said the same thing. If you ask Michael Feinstein about Thompson he can go on for days,” explains Minnelli. “She thought of and did harmonies like no one had ever done before. It was so outrageous when they hired her for MGM—she was the head of the MGM music department in 1939, which was before women were the head of anything.”

    As for having been the inspiration for Eloise, Minnelli isn’t quite sure. “Eloise is such a wonderful children’s book, I wouldn’t take credit for that at all,” she says. “I think that her imagination really created that character.”

    This is the first time that Minnelli will be dedicating an entire show to Thompson, who passed away in 1998 at age 90. Fans can be assured, however, that she will also be including hits like “New York, New York” and “Cabaret.”

    “I have to do those, and thank God I do, because I made them famous and that pleases me,” she says with no modesty whatsoever.

    In addition to the music and dancing, Minnelli will be sharing personal anecdotes on stage, which she has never done before. “I tell about what happened to me and my godmother and how interesting she made everything,” she says. “I think your point of view, your choices depend on what you’ve learned.”

    Minnelli gives much credit for the current show’s success to choreographer Ron Lewis, with whom she has worked since 1970. “He has done such a brilliant job, because there was no record of Kay’s act,” she explains. “She never filmed it, it was never really televised or anything, so we started from scratch, and luckily Ron knew her, and he remembered her influence on him.” At 62, Minnelli is still able to give a command performance, tirelessly singing and dancing as if the long years on stage and film—50 and counting —have yet to pass. And, as evidenced by video clips posted on the show’s website, the star is having a blast. She looks to be enjoying it so much, in fact, that one can hardly help but think of a little girl gallivanting through the halls of a great big hotel.

    > Liza’s at The Palace

    Dec. 3-28, The Palace Theater, 1564 Broadway (at W. 47th St.), 212-307-4100; times vary, $25-$250.