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

costumer

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

Stritch’s

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

sobering

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,

turbulent,

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

intricate

work of autobiographical material that takes us from Stritch’s strict

Catholic childhood through her on-stage and off-stage life and into

the present.

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

"Stephen

Sondheim’s "Company" are legendary, she fulfills every note and

nuance in "Why do the Wrong People Travel," and "The

Ladies

Who Lunch." Don’t be surprised to hear that Stritch gets her

biggest

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

Me."

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

success

"Pal Joey." Stritch’s crush on Rock Hudson, her strange

almost-relationship

with Richard Burton, ill-fated marriage to another alcoholic Gig

Young,

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

Wings."

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

Elaine Stritch At Liberty, Public Theater, 425 Lafayette

Street, New York. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.


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