Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Clear-Eyed Elaine Stritch

Elaine Stritch is one of the few actor-singer-performers I truly admire - totally her own person, surprisingly unpretentious, ballsy, iconoclastic, witty with a killer timing, gifted but alcoholically flawed - and all wedded to a scary degree of self-awareness.

I first really appreciated her in the documentary of her one woman show 'Elaine Stritch at Liberty', in which, in this snippet, she explores her early years as an acting student along with Marlon Brando:

Stritch famously produces one of the best versions of the searing social satire 'The Ladies Who Lunch' of Stephen Sondheim:

The performance has all the savagery and bite it needs!

Has anyone seen her live?


  1. I love Elaine Stritch and had always wanted to see her. I had read about "At Liberty" but never dreamed I'd get to see it. It closed Off-Broadway and re-opened on Broadway, so I decided this was a once in a lifetime chance, and I flew to NY for a day and a half just to see her. Imagine getting to hear her sing any one of her songs-- let alone ALL of them and all of her life in between? I think I cried through the whole thing-- totally electrifying. She took the show to Los Angeles, and I saw her again. This time I got to meet her afterwards. About a year later, she brought the show to Scottsdale, AZ (where I live), so I used a tax refund to take about 4 other people to see it! If you EVER have the chance to see her (and I know she often does a few months at the Carlisle Hotel in NY), just GO!!!

  2. A true no-holds barred icon.

    Alan down in Florida

  3. I haven't but I would love to.

  4. Yes. I saw her one woman show in a small off-Broadway theater in December 2001. "Mesmerizing" doesn't begin to do the performance justice. It was one of the few times in the theater I kept thinking, "Paul, you are so lucky to be alive to see this -- and to see it when you've had enough years under your belt to realize what a Great, and rare, experience it is."

    One of the remarkable parts of the show was that many of the events she described would have been maudlin, or tacky, or "look at me, poor victim" from another actor. But she seemed to be genuinely sharing them, in an objective manner than was endearing, even while the results were devastating the audience.

    I agree with you, NO BODY sings "Here's to the Ladies who Lunch" like Stritch. Do you know her rendition of "Are You Having Any Fun?" An utter tour de force that never fails to put a smile on my face and put the crises of the day (whatever it might be) into perspective.

    Thank you for reminding me of her.

  5. hey kerry. great to have been able to see her so much - and to have met her - what was she like? i saw bea arthur here doing a similar kind of one-woman show (it's a genre, of course) - but it didn't have the same level of 'truth revealed' about it that elaine stritch's show did. i will break a leg to see her if she comes out here. tho i have done a fair amount of traveling to see things rather than wait hoping they'll come to me. your comment makes me all the most anxious to see her!

  6. hey alan - yeah, the genuine article - not too many of them and lots of plastic imitations posing as the real thing!

  7. hey paul

    lucky you seeing her in 2001!

    i think it's the dead straight unsentimental way she views her life, with all its ups and downs, that keeps her from being maudlin or pity seeking. and ultimately so embarrassing when you get manipulated that way - icky!

    you are right, she understands the grit in the song and delivers her performance to realize it. cos it's a savage piece, underneath!

    love 'Are You Having Any Fun' too!

    keep in touch.

    take care


  8. hey victor, yeah, we should - as she says, she's not getting any younger. extraordinary she's still on the road when so many are at home nursing their memories - or in nursing homes! she obviously believes it's best to look forward not back.

  9. I've never had the pleasure of seeing Elaine Stritch in person, but I've loved her (occasional) movies and records for years. If you haven't done so already, her cast albums of Goldilocks and Sail Away are both well worth finding and getting. Neither was a big hit on Broadway, but they're both good shows. She'll have you laughing your head off with a comedy number, then turn right around and break your heart with a ballad or a torch song.

  10. hey keith. thanks for the pointers to 'goldilocks' and 'sail away'. like shows like that that have, as you say, a nice regular change of pace, tone and direction. and there are lots of performances that go under our radars - it's easy to get distracted by the approved block-busters!

  11. Actually I interviewed her, 30 years ago when I was a columnist in London. We spent a couple of hours together at the Savoy Hotel, where she lived as a longterm resident. And in the early 1970s I saw her act (again, in London) at the (back then, small and intimate) Hampstead Theatre in Tennessee Williams's 'Small Craft Warnings'. No nonsense, no bullshit, unforgettable. And a privilege to have met her in the flesh, so to speak.

  12. lucky you. i imagine she was pretty much like her stage persona - she comes across as someone who doesn't develop two characters: one for the theatre and one for real life. sadly i only saw her once - in the liberty show and on YouTube - at so many removes!