Liza Minnelli To Pinch-Hit On Broadway Again

For the second time in her career, Liza Minnelli will pinch-hit for a major Broadway star when she takes over the title role of "Victor/Victoria" for four weeks, Jan. 7-Feb. 2.

Minnelli has signed on to "V/V" as a temporary replacement for Julie Andrews, who's been starring in the show since its pre-Broadway tryout began 18 months ago. "V/V" opened at the Marquis Theatre in New York City on Oct. 3, 1995.

At a press conference last week, Andrews announced that, while she's having "the time of her life" in "Victor/Victoria," she's been feeling "a little beat up and tired" by the rigors of her role. Indeed, the star had missed two performances earlier in the week. Andrews said she felt she would be able to stay with the production if her "poor old bones" were allowed to mend during an extended break, and announced that her "chum" Minnelli had agreed to spot her in "V/V" for a month.

Minnelli then came on to say that, while she had declined a previous offer to permanently replace Andrews in the show--because "I can't follow Julie"--she thought it would be "a joy" to play the role for one month on Broadway "and then leave." Andrews is scheduled to return to "V/V" immediately thereafter, and to stay with the show until May, 1997.

The switching of stars in "Victor/Victoria" calls to mind a similar occurrence 20 years ago, when Minnelli--then at the height of her career--filled in for Gwen Verdon as Roxie Hart in "Chicago" for five weeks while Verdon underwent a throat operation. The show continued to list Verdon as its star; somewhat disingenuously, Minnelli's appearance was treated as that of an understudy or standby, announced only by means of a lobby card and Playbill inserts.

The New York Post reported last week that Blake Edwards, the director of "V/V" (and Andrews' husband), will "re-tailor the show to Minnelli's talents." When the star joined "Chicago," a song previously performed in that show as a duet by Verdon and Chita Rivera ("My Own Best Friend") was re-arranged as a Minnelli solo.

A continued star presence at the center of "Victor/Victoria" may be essential to the show's longevity; "V/V" received mixed reviews upon its opening, and its box office success has been credited largely to the drawing power of Andrews in her first Broadway appearance since "Camelot" in 1960. Business at "V/V" dropped precipitously when Andrews missed performances over the past year for various reasons, including emergency gall-bladder surgery.

This time around, Minnelli's Broadway subbing may benefit her as much as it will the production she's stepping into. The star's problems with substance abuse prompted an early withdrawal from her last Broadway show, in "The Rink" (1984), and her singing voice has deteriorated in recent years. Four weeks in "Victor/Victoria" allows Minnelli the cachet of a Broadway comeback without testing her ability to fulfill a lengthier commitment of time and energy.

The producers' hope is that Minnelli will give "V/V" a financial boost at a time of year when Broadway ticket sales are normally slow, and that the star will be more kindly received by patrons who had previously secured their tickets for Jan. 7-Feb. 2 than would a non-celebrity standby f