Liza Minnelli

The Rink [Original Broadway Cast]

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Since the songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb have been working with Liza Minnelli for 20 years, providing her with one signature number after another (not to mention Ebb's authorship of her continually revised nightclub act), it would be easy to assume that the Broadway musical The Rink, in which she co-stars with another Kander/Ebb favorite, Chita Rivera (of 1975's Chicago), is a star vehicle written for her. Actually, it wasn't, and she was shoehorned into the secondary role of Angel Antonelli, the nearly 30-year-old prodigal daughter of Anna Antonelli (Rivera), who returns home to the roller-skating rink her mother has been running in a rundown amusement park, intent on settling down, only to find that the rink is about to be torn down and Anna is planning to move away. If the show is a star vehicle, it was actually built as such for Rivera, not Minnelli, but once Minnelli was (mis)cast, her part was beefed up to the point that it's actually she, not Rivera, who opens the show with "Colored Lights," a number that should translate easily to her nightclub act. Minnelli's typical gamin appeal adds some balance to the scales in what is actually the songwriters' (and librettist Terrence McNally's) grumpy attack on the younger side of the ‘60s generation gap. Angel is supposed to be a drug-taking, guru-loving hippie waif who is coming to her senses, while Anna is the embodiment of a disaffected, working-class, ethnic Reagan Democrat, complaining about how her world has gone to hell, as she does in such songs as "What Happened to the Old Days?," in which urban blight is evoked by the sound of an electric guitar. Kander, always most comfortable re-creating the hot jazz sound of the 1920s (as he does in Rivera's opening number, "Chief Cook and Bottle Washer"), clearly hates rock & roll, and Ebb, who lampoons the idealism of the ‘60s generation in "All the Children in a Row," appears to hate its fans as well. Minnelli, not exactly a rock & roller herself, seems content to serve as the object of their ire, but inevitably she makes Angel more sympathetic than they probably intended originally. Meanwhile, Anna is no saint, either, and by the end, although the characters themselves are reconciled, the creators have moved from merely disparaging the younger generation to a more general misanthropy (which makes the story structure essentially similar to one they have pursued before, notably in Chicago). Along the way, as usual, they have set their complaints to some appealing, if overly familiar, show music with an interwar feel.

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