Liza Minnelli is breathless. You can hear it as soon as she takes the phone from her publicist.

“I’m on a band break,” she chortles. “Sorry.”

Minnelli, 64, has spent the morning working up songs from her new CD, “Confessions.” She’ll perform some of them, as well as music from throughout her career, in a concert Wednesday at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium.

She’s touring with a sextet, led by her longtime collaborator and pianist Billy Stritch. The show should be fun and casual, and almost like a house party, Minnelli says.

“I hadn’t planned to make this record. They talked me into making it,” she says. “Someone said, ‘Why don’t you sing like you do at parties? Nobody has ever heard you sing like that. It’s so intimate and personal.’

“So that’s where it started. Billy talked me into it.”

“Confessions” is a collection of Minnelli’s favorite songs written by the biggest names in popular music of the 20th century, from Jerome Kern and Sammy Cahn to Irving Berlin. These are the songs she likes to sing at dinner parties, in the casual company of friends.

“When we have an evening together, we end up around the piano,” she says. “It’s the difference between singing to and singing out, and the difference between satisfying the expectations of the fans and serving the expectations of the songwriter.”

In today’s world of fleeting fame and fast-burning careers, Minnelli stands as a true superstar. She’s a star of stage and screen, and has won all the major awards across the spectrum of show business. She’s only one of a handful of performers to have won an Emmy, a Grammy, a Tony and an Oscar, as well as countless other honors.

The daughter of actress and singer Judy Garland and film director Vincent Minnelli, she is revered as a living legend in show business circles. She began her career at age 16, and starred on Broadway at age 19 when she became the youngest woman to win a Tony Award. She won her first Oscar in 1972 for her work in “Cabaret,” which was recently named one of the best 100 movies of all time by the American Film Institute.

But she’s definitely not riding on her past successes. Last year, Minnelli won her third Tony for a monthlong show at the Palace Theatre on Broadway, which also spawned a Grammy-nominated live album, “Liza’s at the Palace!”

This year, she appeared in the movie “Sex and the City 2” with Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon. “That was great fun,” Minnelli says. “I liked the choreography, and I loved the girls. We’ve all been friends for a long time.”

Minnelli has spent her entire life in front of audiences, and often on the wrong end of the gossip machine. Her health and personal life have been the subject of repeated inquiry and intrigue, and Minnelli swats away a personal question with an abrupt but polite, “I feel great. Really great. Everything is just, just great.”

Minnelli’s conversation is fast and clipped. She sounds bubbly, and punctuates her sentences with laughter and a sense of casualness. She’s not above calling her interviewer “honey” or joking about how hard the band is driving her in preparation of this tour.

She says she feels compelled to perform, and is grateful that work keeps “falling my way, and thank God it does, too.” She sees herself not as a glamorous star or the original diva, but as a hard-working showbiz girl.

Her work-first acumen was ingrained in her upbringing, she says.

“I’m a modern vaudevillian,” Minnelli says. “In vaudeville, they used to travel city to city and show to show, and people called them gypsies. We’re doing the same kind of thing. If you are going from theater to theater, that’s what they did with vaudeville. We’re just keeping that tradition alive.”

Minnelli’s fall is fully booked. “Confessions” will be in stores on Tuesday, and she has a full season of work ahead of her with concerts scheduled across the country in cities as small as Portland and as large as Boston and San Francisco.

“I throw myself into everything I am doing at the time,” she says. “I never want to disappoint an audience. If they pay the money they have worked for to see me, I will be there.” 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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