Corrections or additions?
This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the December 5,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
New York Review: `Elaine Stritch’
Elaine Stritch’s gravel-dusted voice bears witness
to lifetime of roaring successes, strange interludes, and hard times.
But that voice also provides a stirring and sassy solo tour through
this artist’s sometime funny sometime frenetic and more often than
not frenzied life in the theater. Although the trim and attractive
Stritch is ill-served by the foolish-looking black tights that
Paul Taxewell has chosen for her to wear throughout the performance,
she is otherwise brilliantly served by material that she and John
Lahr, as co-constructionists, have devised.
Using a stool as her only prop, Stritch is as persuasive a storyteller
as she is an interpreter of songs. There is unbridled delight in
telling of her first big Broadway break as understudy for Ethel Merman
(who never missed a performance) in "Call Me Madam." That
she was also performing the show-stopper "Zip" at the same
time in a revival of "Pal Joey," which was trying out in New
Haven, leads to a hilariously told story about her daily (twice on
matinee days) commute. Stritch’s tour with "The Women" and
her comments on fellow actors Gloria Swanson ("she didn’t know
what day it was") and her detailed imitation of Marge Champion’s
painfully protracted self-serving curtain scene is priceless.
You can be sure that 76-year-old Stritch has plenty of juicy and
stories to tell and plenty of terrific songs to sing. That she turns
them loose in an almost non-stop (barring the intermission) barrage
for two-and-a-half hours on a bare stage suggests she doesn’t need
any help from anyone. Oh, one piano would have done fine. But wouldn’t
you know that there is a terrific orchestra in the pit to accompany
Stritch in about 24 great show-tunes splendidly arranged by the genius
Jonathan Tunick. But that’s not even the half of it, as this spry
and ever sassy pro takes us on what is essentially a dramatic,
disturbing and healing odyssey of a woman who was just as often out
of control as in control. If "…At Large" rarely spins out
of control, we can credit Lahar for constructing a very fine and
work of autobiographical material that takes us from Stritch’s strict
Catholic childhood through her on-stage and off-stage life and into
As her 50-year career was framed by a lifelong battle with alcoholism,
it was also propelled by her love for the stage and her desire to
be all that she could be as an artist. This is evident in the way
she interprets a song, plans her moves, insinuates with one telling
glance, and poignantly defines a personal moment. Notwithstanding
her dramatic skills (although no mention is made of her Tony-nominated
performance in Edward Albee’s "A Delicate Balance"), it is
Stritch’s comic and musical timing that is the heart of the show.
You can be sure that no one has ever sung "Broadway Baby,"
with such grit, or "The Party’s Over," with such poignancy.
As her performances in Noel Coward’s "Sail Away," and
Sondheim’s "Company" are legendary, she fulfills every note and
nuance in "Why do the Wrong People Travel," and "The
Who Lunch." Don’t be surprised to hear that Stritch gets her
hand doing Sondheim’s "I’m Still Here" ("because I want
to") and gets herself and us misty-eyed during "The Party’s
Over," and Charles Deforrest’s "When Do the Bells Ring for
If the glib songs of Cole Porter, and a few raucous
anthems by Irving Berlin are audience pleasers, the knock their socks
off number is "Zip," the strip song from another Stritch
"Pal Joey." Stritch’s crush on Rock Hudson, her strange
with Richard Burton, ill-fated marriage to another alcoholic Gig
and her 10-year marriage to the love of her life actor John Bay, who
died of cancer in 1982, are explored in reflective moments that reveal
her ever-present lonely side.
With all the musical and anecdotal riches, you may wonder why she
has nothing to say about her long run in "Show Boat." Don’t
be surprised, however, if you leave the theater singing the hit song
"Civilization" (Bongo, bongo, bongo, I don’t wanna leave the
Congo") that Stritch introduced in the revue "Angel in the
It’s not that "Who’s Been Sitting in My Chair," from that
short-lived Stritch vehicle "Goldilocks" isn’t another lost
gem being rediscovered by an incomparable star who is shining brighter
than ever. Three stars. You won’t feel cheated
— Simon Saltzman
Street, New York. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.
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