She is one of my favorite show biz figures. Today Elaine Stritch celebrates her 88th birthday.
I had read reviews her very well received one-woman show – At Liberty (2002), & although we didn’t have a chance to see it, I purchased the double CD of the show. The Husband lit a fire in the fireplace, I mixed some cocktails & we stretched out on the 2 day beds & listened to this fabulous woman tell stories & sings songs about her 60+ years in the business we call show. We laughed & laughed & cried from laughing, & then just cried.
I saw Elaine Stritch in the original cast of Company (actually Dean Jones had left the show to be replaced by Larry Kert, who was replaced by George Chakaris, but the rest of the cast was intact). In Company, Stritch originated the role of the classy, brassy Joanne, a cocktail swilling 50-something who is a personal hero to me. In the early 1990s, I was in the final call backs for this role. I actually don’t believe in fiddling around with or “concepting” plays that are not in the public domain, but I lost my head & against my own strongly held opinion, I was flattered into the possibility of playing Joanne in an all-male cast of Company. I didn’t need to agonize about my decision.Before casting was completed, Stephen Sondheim gave the Alice B Theatre of Seattle, a cease & desist legal paper, stating that Mr. Furth (the writer of the book) & Sondheim never intended or wished for their piece to be performed by an all-male cast. I was disappointed & terribly relieved.
When I saw the groundbreaking musical Company in 1971, I had never encountered such a commanding performance, star wattage, or such a steamroller of talent in any of my young theatre going experiences. I became obsessed with Elaine Stritch & my adoration has never wavered through the decades. I regret that I have only seen her live the one time, especially now that each year, she plays one of my favorite rooms- The Carlyle in NYC, doing an evening titled- Sondheim: Singing Sondheim...One Song At A Time.
Star, legend, force of nature, Stritch is at her Stritch best in her deeply personal one-woman show- At Liberty. In my favorite section, she gives a glimpse of backstage theatre life, as she recounts how she served as standby for Ethel Merman in the Irving Berlin musical- Call Me Madam on NBroadway at the same time she had a featured role in Rodgers & Hart’s Pal Joey playing in New Haven. She tells of the people she mingled with: Noel Coward, Judy Garland, Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, Gig Young, Ben Gazzara, Hal Prince, Stephen Sondheim, Rock Hudson, her disappointments both professional ("I blew the audition for The Golden Girls!") & personal (her bouts with drinking). At Liberty is more of a monologue than a musical performance, though she does perform some of her signature songs like Zip & The Ladies Who Lunch. At Liberty won a Tony Award in 2002 for Special Theatrical Event, but Stritch's triumph was tempered when she was not allowed to complete her acceptance speech.
She closes At Liberty with one of my favorite songs- Something Good from the film version of The Sound Of Music. Elaine sings it, full of genuine, quiet gratitude, to her audience. This CD is absolutely essential in the library of every serious show business aficionado.
I have been able to continue to enjoy the company of Stritch with her Emmy winning performances on 30 Rock, as the mother dearest to Alec Baldwin. Their scenes are like heaven to me.
Happy 88th Birthday, Elaine Stritch!