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This week in history: Liza Minnelli wins over Chicago critic

Chicago Daily News theater critic Jack Hafferkamp couldn’t have been less excited to see Liza Minnelli perform in 1973 — but the singer, born March 12, turned him into a fan.

Liza Minnelli at Chicago hotel
Liza Minnelli hangs out at a party at the McCormick Inn Hotel in Chicago on May 30, 1973.
Photo by Chuck Kirman/Chicago Sun-Times

As published in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:

Chicago Daily News theater critic Jack Hafferkamp might have rolled his eyes when he received his assignment for May 31, 1973. Entertainer Liza Minnelli, born March 12, would be performing at the McCormick Inn Hotel, and Hafferkamp had to review her performance.

“I admired her Oscar-winning performance in ‘Cabaret,’ but something about her aura (She is the D-A-R-L-I-N-G of the glamorosi set) turned me off,” he wrote. “So before I turned up at her Wednesday night debut, I spent the early evening sharpening my claws.”

Minnelli may have been the first child star of a child star, having appeared on TV and in shows with her late mother Judy Garland, but by the time of her Chicago show, the performer had made a name for herself. She’d won the Oscar for best actress in “Cabaret” and counted a number of famous names, such as Andy Warhol, as her friends.

The opening act failed to impress Hafferkamp, but then Minnelli emerged, “running on stage, and charging full throttle into ‘Say Yes.’”

After that, it was hard for the Daily News critic to keep his cold veneer. Minnelli’s performance charmed him.

“Liza works hard at her singing and dancing, but there is never a letdown — not even for a second,” he wrote. “And her presence is so commanding that I hardly noticed the 27-piece orchestra playing behind her.”

Minnelli’s show mixed old standards like “Shine on Harvest Moon” with contemporary hits such as “I Can See Clearly Now.” Capitalizing on her recent Oscar, she threw in a few hits from “Cabaret,” including the slow-build classic “Maybe This Time.”

The performance captivated Hafferkamp. Minnelli “is more completely in tune with, more completely absorbed by her material,” than anyone else he had seen. The Daily News critic called her “larger than life, but extremely, endearingly real.”

“You get the feeling that directly below her cheery surface there is a volcano that is dangerously close to erupting,” he mused. “But you’re never quite sure.”

Minnelli had turned Hafferkamp into a fan.

“Hard nose that I am,” the critic wrote, “I’m not one to throw this word around lightly, but Liza is great.”