Liza Minnelli’s 75th Birthday Party Will ‘Give You Goosebumps,’ Producer Promises
Welcome to this week’s “Just for Variety”…
We’re just a couple days away from Liza Minnelli’s birthday, which is March 12. As I first told you, the Hollywood legend — and Variety cover star — will be feted that night with “Love Letter to Liza: A 75th Birthday Tribute Celebration,” a virtual extravaganza benefiting The Actors Fund. Close to 50 celebs are taking part, including Joel Grey, Lea DeLaria, Kristin Chenoweth, Melissa Manchester, Ben Vereen, Sandra Bernhard, Jonathan Groff, Michael Feinstein, Ute Lemper, Tony Hale, Nathan Lane, Neil Meron, Kathy Griffin and Minnelli’s sister Lorna Luft.
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“The best email you’re ever going to get in your lifetime is Lily Tomlin sending you a video of her doing all her characters,” producer Daniel Nardicio says of the pre-recorded tributes. “She did all of them congratulating Liza.” Also on the bill is former “Seinfeld” star Jason Alexander, who appeared with Minnelli and Chita Rivera in “The Rink” on Broadway in 1984. “Jason’s was very moving,” Nardicio says. “Liza used to take him out after the show and for dinner. Some of them got me to tears and they’re going to give you goosebumps.” The night is hosted by NY1 theater guru Frank DiLella. Nardicio has worked with Minnelli before, including producing a show at Town Hall for her 67th birthday party followed by a party at the Copacabana. A cabaret show with Alan Cumming at the Ice Palace on Fire Island came next in 2012. “She was supposed to leave the day after the concert, but she didn’t want to go,” Nardicio recalls. “She would get herself packed and then unpack and stay another day. We’d get her in a firetruck and drive around again. I fell in love with her spirit.” For more on “Love Letter to Liza,” go to stellartickets.com or clubcummingnyc.com.
I caught up with Tyler Posey on Saturday for this week’s “Just for Variety” podcast. The former “Teen Wolf ” star recently dropped his debut single, “Shut Up,” featuring vocals by Phem and Travis Barker on drums. We had a lot to talk about, including the 29-year-old actor-musician’s decision to get sober during the pandemic. While he’s not sober at the moment, Posey tells me, “There was a moment it got a little scary, and I felt like I needed some help.” He started drinking and using drugs when he was 14. “Sobriety really is the greatest thing in the world because it helped me grow up,” Posey says. He also opened up about the pressures of being a so-called role model for young people, and he says he was urged but refused to apologize for his NSFW photos and videos that were leaked in 2017. “They definitely wanted me to say, ‘Look, I’m sorry. I’m ashamed of myself,’ which I wasn’t, and I wasn’t sorry,” Posey recalls. He made headline news again in October when he revealed that he’s sexually fluid. “My dad [actor John Posey] called me after all this came out — I never told him anything about this stuff — he called me saying, ‘Hey, buddy. Just making sure you’re OK. I don’t want you to get overwhelmed or stressed out,’” Posey says. “He was totally cool about it.”
And yes, Posey says it’s time for a “Teen Wolf” reunion. He’s already pitched some ideas to series creator Jeff Davis: “I’m a huge advocate for bringing ‘Teen Wolf ’ back.”
“One Night in Miami” star Aldis Hodge has designed new concept art in honor of the film with his 9B Collective partners Phillip Boutté Jr. and Mike Uwandi and graphic artist BossLogic. The poster, released exclusively to “Just for Variety,” shows the silhouetted figures of Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke, with the tagline “Four Legends. One Legendary Night.” “We wanted to get a sense of what they were looking forward to,” Hodge tells Variety’s Angelique Jackson, “Which is why we’re on their backs as they’re looking at this hotel, before going into the conversation they’re having.” The hotel room where the four men have that conversation (and spend most of the movie’s 114-minute runtime) is lit in a glowing yellow hue. Hodge adds that the fireworks on the poster echo the scene where the men take in Miami’s celebration of Muhammad Ali‘s (then Cassius Clay’s) heavyweight title win from the hotel’s rooftop. “It’s a breath of fresh air for them for a minute when the fireworks are happening,” he explains. “It’s sort of a mini-celebration they get to have in the film, so we wanted to mirror that.”
The art also furthers the mission of Hodge’s 9B collective, a Black-owned global community of artists who design video games, movies, television, illustrations and posters, with the primary objective to create opportunities for Black artists and people of color. “We’re trying to close a gap — a very, very wide gap, that has been a restrictive problem for a lot of great talent for a long time,” Hodge says. The work started with Hodge’s partners Boutte Jr. and Uwandi, who both boast more than a decade of experience in the conceptual art industry. “Phil has been in the industry for about 14 years,” Hodge says. “And last year, his 13th year in the game, is the very first time that he worked a job sitting next to another Black artist. And it just boggles my mind how that’s even possible, but Mike has had shared experiences.”
If you were in Griffith Park on Saturday and heard Cynthia Erivo’s voice booming from the Greek Theatre, consider yourself pretty lucky. No, the Greek has not reopened for concerts, but the Tony winner was on stage shooting a tribute to Aretha Franklin for the March 11 virtual and drive-in premieres of Nat Geo’s “Genius: Aretha” in L.A., NYC, Atlanta and Detroit. Erivo portrays the Queen of Soul in the cabler’s latest installment of the Ron Howard and Brian Grazer-produced anthology series. “The first two songs are going to be a little more intimate, a living room set on the stage of the Greek … and then for the last song, she’s going to change into this amazing evening gown,” Chris Albert, Nat Geo’s EVP of marketing strategy and global communications, tells me. “And we’re filming the whole thing with a drone flying all around the Greek.” The premiere’s other performances include spoken word with showrunner Suzan-Lori Parks at the Greek, trumpeter Marquis Hill from the Apollo Theatre in NYC, the Detroit Youth All-Star Choir as well as “Genius” co-stars Antonique Smith, Patrice Covington and Rebecca Naomi Jones. Executive producer Grazer makes an appearance as does Courtney B. Vance, who plays Aretha’s father C.L. Franklin. “If we weren’t in a pandemic, we would have had a big glossy premiere on Hollywood Boulevard with a big party afterwards so what’s the virtual equivalent that can give you that kind of feeling and bring an audience together? Albert says. “I feel like music, in a virtual world, is going to be one of the best ways to bring people together.”
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