Today—May 28—marks the 25th anniversary of the opening night of Liza Minnelli's record-breaking 17 consecutive sellouts at Carnegie Hall (17 x 2,804 seats!). Gino Francesconi, Director of the Carnegie Hall Archives and Rose Museum—who was there when Liza set the earlier record for consecutive sold-out appearances at the Hall in 1979—recently spoke with Ms. Minnelli to reminisce about both occasions.
Coincidentally, Gino was taught to mix drinks backstage at Carnegie Hall by Liza's father, Vincente Minnelli. But, that's a story for another day.
Twenty-five years ago on May 28, 1987, Liza Minnelli began a 17-day run of concerts at Carnegie Hall that still holds the record for the most consecutive performances by an individual in the Hall's history. Not only that, but she sold out each one. What makes this so special is that Carnegie Hall is usually a house of one-night-only events. Yes, the New York Philharmonic rented multiple nights a week for more than 60 years and there were weeklong conventions or conferences. But in nearly 50,000 events during Carnegie Hall's 121-year history, no one else has ever sold out 17 performances back to back.
The program page from the playbill for the 1987 concerts, autographed by Liza Minnelli. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.
Liza broke the all-time Carnegie Hall record of 11 sold-out performances set eight years earlier by none other than ... herself! When she walked out on the Carnegie Hall stage for the first night of that run—September 4, 1979—she was only 33 years old and had already won an Academy Award, an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and three Tony Awards. She was also walking out onto the same stage where her mother, Judy Garland, performed 18 years earlier for what became known by some as "the greatest night in show biz history." It was a landmark event in Judy Garland's career and for Carnegie Hall, too—the live recording was the first to win five Grammy Awards. Liza Minnelli was a part of that historic night when she appeared on the Carnegie Hall stage for the first time when her mother introduced her children—Liza, Lorna, and Joey—to the audience. One would think that night would be an intimidating act to follow. Instead, Liza embraced it and carved a niche in Carnegie Hall's history of her own.
Judy Garland introducing Lorna, Joey, and Liza to the audience at her legendary concert on April 23, 1961. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.
As the backstage artist attendant during Liza Minnelli's 1979 run, I had the rare opportunity to be in the dressing room areas and participate from a unique perspective. I had already worked nearly 1,500 events with some of the most important musicians of the day. Yet Liza's appearances were a new experience for me. Rarely had I heard such a roar from the audience or seen a performer give so much energy on stage. I had never before seen so many flowers and telegrams from well-wishers in the dressing room. And probably most rare of all was her kindness and generosity to the staff. She bought gifts for the ushers and stagehands—something that I heard longtime ushers say was a first. One night when I picked up the Halston-designed beaded jacket Liza wore at every performance, I remarked to Helen—her dresser—how heavy it was. Without pause she replied, "Yeah, and the kid is still wearing the pants" ... which were twice as heavy!
Photograph autographed by Liza Minnelli for Carnegie Hall. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.
A few days ago, Liza was kind enough to speak with me on the phone, and we went down memory lane about 1979 and 1987.
Two moments stood out.
Each event at Carnegie Hall is entitled to one poster outside of the Hall and there are about two weeks' worth of poster cases. At one point, all the posters were Liza's! She vividly remembers driving "around the block several times to see those posters.” The other moment was when she remarked, "At Carnegie Hall, the audience surrounds you and you're right with them. No other theater in the world does that."
Happy anniversary, Liza!
Related: Hall History