Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday Dance Party: Barry, Oh Marry!

He got married a year ago, but the news just trickled out last week.  And like other recent, shrug-inducing announcements, the revelation that 70s superstar Barry Manilow married his longtime male manager isn't cause for much excitement.

Though he married a woman, briefly, about a hundred years ago, Manilow successfully ducked questions about his sexuality for most of his career.  He seemed like the kind of guy who would always be single.
This was the only Manilow album I ever
owned. He proved himself a lively showman
and his concerts were lavish events.
Except that Manilow really was a huge star of the 70s who built his music career on scores of weepy ballads of love and yearning. He was the most unlikely of sex symbols, with a tall gangly frame and, let's face it, a real Jimmy Durante shnozz. But something about his music, and his public persona, struck hard.  I was not a big fan, but you really couldn't get those earwick ballads out of your head.
Barry had the occasional uptempo hit, like the disco-tinged "Copacabana," but primarily, he was known for sappy ballads with refrains that churned around in your head long after the song was over.
He's hardly recognizable here. He
spent some time in TV production
before his career as a jingle writer
took off.

Funny thing about those love ballads.  For the most part, the lyrics were not gender specific.  Did anyone notice this back then?
Our hero hit #1 for the first time
since "Mandy" with this song.
"I write the songs that make the
whole world sing," except he
didn't write it. Nobody cared.

Many, many songs were actually direct address, with the song aimed directly at the subject, rather than a tale of woe about the time "she" left me.  Was this a subtle way for Manilow to duck questions regarding his own romantic life?  Whatever it was, it allowed gay men to appropriate those songs without the hassle of changing pronouns.

Ah, who cares at this point. I find that I am more interested in the on-again, off-again relationship Barry had with another music superstar, Bette Midler. 
These two met back in the 70s, when Manilow was hired to accompany "the talent" who entertained at Manhattan's Continental Baths on Saturday nights. I guess back then, gay bath houses offered entertainment to the deviants wandering around the club in towels. Bette Midler made her first big splash performing there, with Barry at the piano. This club provided the inspiration for Terrence McNally's 1975 play The Ritz.  Rita Moreno won a Tony playing a role loosely based on Midler. 
Barry and Bette hit it off (not surprisingly, as The Divine Miss M has always been Best Friend to the Gays), and their professional lives were intertwined for about 3 years.  Manilow produced her first two albums in the early 70s, just as his own career as a solo artist was unexpectedly taking off as well. 
Gotta love those 70s fashions.

Somewhere in there, the Great Feud began, which was to keep the two apart for several decades, as they each rose to fame.  As much as I love Miss Midler, from what I've read, the fault was mostly hers:  she had trouble accepting the fact that her records sold "only" 30 million copies, while Barry's topped 80 million. 
By 2003, two older and wiser heads prevailed, and the Bette/Barry team was back in business.  Manilow produced Midler's well-received tribute albums to Rosemary Clooney and Peggy Lee, and the two even recorded a few songs together.
Tensions linger, apparently.  In 2013, Barry and Bette were both, coincidentally, on Broadway. A concert evening called Manilow on Broadway was selling out, while Midler's one-woman play I'll Eat You Last was packing them in as well.
There was talk of Midler and Manilow opening the Tony Awards with a duet, since they were both on Broadway at the time.  When it didn't happen, folks were sure the feud was still smoldering, but in reality, I think Bette was pissed she did not receive a Tony nomination for her work playing Sue Mengers.  Her show was a smash and did not need the publicity of a Tony appearance, so she skipped it.
There are a couple of clips out there, of the two superstars together, but for this week's Dance Party, here's another, more unlikely, collaboration.  In 1988, Disney released an animated musical adaptation of Oliver Twist, rewritten as a story about dogs. The score for Oliver and Company was written by a bunch of people, and included one song written by Barry Manilow.  The tune was given to the character of Georgette, a spoiled showdog, which, by coincidence or not, was being voiced by Bette Midler.  So, inadvertently, Barry and Bette were collaborating again, though in different rooms, and at different times.
Oliver and Company predated the great animation renaissance which Disney was to enjoy a bit later, but the film was a modest success.
I've never seen this film, but it's kind of a fun song.  So, in the spirit of congratulations to Barry and his hubby, enjoy Bette Midler belting a Barry Manilow song.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Friday Dance Party: The Simonizer

Broadway lights were dimmed this week in honor of one of the most successful stage directors of his generation. At the height of his career, he was responsible for bringing smash after smash to the stage, though in a curious twist, one of his greatest musical stage hits became one of the biggest musical film flops, both under his hand.

Gene Saks
In A Thousand Clowns, Saks played neurotic kids'
show star Chuckles the Chipmonk, a role he
repeated for the film starring Jason Robards.
He started and ended his career as an actor, but is far better known for his directorial knack with what someone called "Theatre of Repartee."  His friends reported that, though he himself was not particularly funny, his expertise with finding The Funny in a script, and bringing it out, was unparalleled.  
Saks's first film as director was
Simon's Barefoot in the Park, which
brought attention to Robert Redford
and Jane Fonda.

It was no surprise, then, that he became known as a premiere interpreter of the work of Neil Simon.  He directed eight of Doc's plays on Broadway, and translated three more to film.
Neil Simon's plays translate to film with varying degrees of success, but no one complains about The Odd Couple, in which Saks directed Lemmon and Matthau to greatness.

Saks brought Neil Simon's mid-career, autobiographical works to Broadway, including the so-called "B&B" plays. Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, and Broadway Bound were successive hits for Simon, and all concerned his adolescence and young adulthood. Matthew Broderick became famous for his leading portrayals in the first two of these pieces.
Neil Simon won the Tony,
and the Pulitzer, for
Lost In Yonkers, in which Saks
directed unknowns Kevin
Spacey and Mercedes Ruehl.
Gene had other substantial hits.  He directed the slight 2-hander by Bernard Slade, Same Time Next Year, to a three-year run, and his guidance of the film version of Cactus Flower earned Goldie Hawn the Oscar. 
When I saw I Love My Wife, Lenny Baker, above,
had already won the Tony for his performance, but I
was bowled over by the unknown playing his best
friend's wife. It was Joanna Gleason
in her Broadway debut.

He won the first of his three Tony Awards for his direction of I Love My Wife, a musical concerning the wife-swapping phenomenon of the early 1970s. No wonder the show is rather obscure today. I wrote about seeing the show here, and one of the comic numbers of the piece showed up here a while ago on the Dance Party, in a duet between Bea Arthur and Rock Hudson.

Saks won his other two Tonys for Simon plays, though he was nominated several more times. 
Saks was sacked on the road with this
musical, and replaced by Michael
Kidd. The show became a major flop
and ended the Saks/Simon partnership.

His final show on Broadway, Barrymore, earned star Frank Langella the Tony in 1997.  By then he had fallen out with Neil Simon, after he had been fired from the musical version of The Goodbye Girl. Perhaps they should have listened to Gene, as his success rate with stage musicals was impressive.  He not only won the Tony for I Love My Wife, but years earlier, his direction guided one of the most enduring hits of the 1960s and beyond, Mame.

There are a few grainy clips of Angela Lansbury as Mame out there, but a while ago, Lansbury appeared in this Dance Party, in which she displayed all the characteristics of her signature role.  
Angela Lansbury was already an established star when
Saks placed her in the role of Mame, but the marriage
of character and star was so spectacular that she rose to
the top of Broadway stardom, where she has remained
to this day.
Angela won the Tony, as did her costar, who was Gene Saks wife at the time.  The story goes that Bea Arthur lobbied hard to play Mame, but her husband wisely gave her the drunken sidekick Vera Charles.  
Imagine going home to your wife, Bea Arthur, and
telling her you decided she will NOT be playing the
leading role in the play you are directing. "God'll Get
You For That, Gene". In fact, He kinda did, with this
week's Dance Party.
Imagine that conversation at home? I suppose Bea forgave her husband, since she won her Tony playing Vera Charles, and even repeated the role in the miserable film version, also directed by Saks.
What were they thinking as they turned Jerry Herman musicals into movies? The casting corps had a great sense of talent but a lousy sense of timing. Barbra Streisand was a great choice to play Dolly Levi, in about 25 years.  Conversely, Lucille Ball would have made a great Mame Dennis, about 25 years earlier.
You may think this week's Dance Party is
torture, but at least I didn't present a
number from this TV movie, also helmed
by Gene Saks.
Gene was not originally slated to direct the movie Mame, but there was a year-long delay in filming as they waited for Lucille Ball to recover from a broken leg.  Original director George Cukor took that opportunity to bale, and Saks was signed to replace him.  I wrote about the disastrous result when Lucy and Bea Arthur appeared in this Dance Party, feel free to read all about it.  But we can't let the late Gene Saks get away from us without one more dig at his lousy movie.  
Here's Angela Lansbury in the opening number of Mame, "It's Today." This number is this week's Dance Party, starring Lucille Ball; I'm afraid it should have been renamed "It's Too Late."
After a brief song which acts as a prelude to the action, Mame opens with a bang.  Here is the film version; in lieu of actual choreography, Lucy gamely allows herself to be grabbed, shoved, and tossed around by the chorus. At her age (62), and recovering from a broken leg, she does her best.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Dance Party: The Or Means More Than It Did Before

Stephen Sondheim turned 85 this week, coinciding with the DVD release of Into The Woods, which is the most successful of his stage-to-screen musicals. Naturally, a Dance Party is in order!
I didn't have a single problem with this cast, all of whom did their own singing, and quite creditably too.
Sweeney Todd made money and
raised eyebrows: could Sondheim
musicals become hit films?
When the Sweeney Todd film was released several years ago, I lamented the fate of Sondheim fans (or"Sondheimites," pardon the double entendre) who are always disappointed in our hero's screen adaptations.  Go here for that report. But Sweeney ended up making money, earning legitimate critical raves to boot, and Into The Woods has done even better.  The release has grossed just shy of $200 million, worldwide, and the video release will surely increase that number exponentially.  Sondheim can celebrate his 85th birthday with a legitimate film hit.
This week's Dance Party showcases the work of Meryl Streep, who previously appeared on the Dance Party in one of the more bizarre entries in the series, go here for that oddity. Her portrayal of The Witch earned another Oscar nod. Cynics were all over that, but one need only see her scenes with her adopted daughter to admit that she was doing award-worthy work. This was not Margaret Hamilton's witch.
The Into the Woods adaptation is an excellent one, and only Sondheim Poops complained.  By necessity, certain aspects of the original had to be "adjusted" (read CUT), but even purists had to have been pleased.  The songs excised were, with a few exceptions, reprises (though Sondheim reprises are never mere rehashes of previous songs, they stand alone).  Most of the missing music served to update the theatre audience on the passage of time and the progress of the characters's various journeys.  They were not necessary in the film.  
I wish the reprise of "Agony" might have been filmed for a DVD extra, as the original was one of the highlights of the film. No one knew Chris Pine could sing, but the bigger surprise was Billy Magnussen, a surfer dude turned soap star (he spent several years on As The World Turns) whose previous claim to fame was stripping to his skivvies as boytoy Spike in Broadway's Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike.  He won a Tony nomination for his work in his underwear, and has a major film career brewing.  
Tom Aldredge played the Baker's Father in the original. I
wrote a bit about him when he died. The theme of absent
parents was much stronger in the stage play than the film, a
theme which always resonates with me. But it had to go.

I felt the loss of the ballad "No More" most heavily, but have to admit that, here again, it simply was not needed. It's a raw and wonderful duet between the Baker and the father who deserted him as a child, and is probably my favorite song in the show.  But the Baker's Father was a minor character in the film, and the exclusion of his subplot was probably a wise, if painful, decision.
I suppose there are always complaints to be heard, in this case, regarding both Johnny Depp and Lilla Crawford. Depp received the usual snark regarding his eccentric choices; I rather enjoyed his portrayal of the Wolf.  Unbelievably, there were those who actually complained that the two younger roles, Jack and Little Red, were being played by children. Are they kidding? On stage, we might suspend our disbelief and allow 20-somethings to portray pre-teens, but on film, that would be ridiculous.  Crawford in particular handled the intricacies of her role quite well.  She has substantial stage cred, having played Annie in the most recent Broadway revival.
The success of Into the Woods, following that of Sweeney Todd several years ago, has awakened interest in translating Sondheim to film.  Our birthday boy has revealed that someone who shall remain nameless is tackling his Pulitzer prize winner Sunday in the Park with George for film. Considering it took decades to get Into the Woods into the theaters, no need to hold our breaths. 
"The Send In The Clowns Musical"
was the only way they could think
to promote this disastrous Sondheim
film adaptation. It was more than 30
years before anyone tried another.

I myself wish Steve's most cinematic work, Follies, would make its way to the big screen;  it really belongs there.  And boy I wish one of those TV networks planning live presentations of Broadway musicals would take a long look at A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum;  before Robin Williams died, I wrote a piece about how suitable the show would be for such a treatment, and I even cast the thing with TV-friendly stars.
Zero Mostel. Phil Silvers.
Jack Gilford. Buster Keaton.
What could go wrong?

Ah well, maybe one day. For now, enjoy this week's Dance Party, in which Streep has been betrayed by her daughter, who must now pay the price.  Happy Birthday, Steve, and congratulations.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Friday Dance Party: Strike A (Final) Pose

Two pop culture phenoms intersected this week to inspire this week's Dance Party.
Nobody in their right mind would suggest these two women resemble each other.  Except those dreamers over at Glee.
Well, okay, here is one instance when Madonna
does resemble Lynch. She recently took a topple
during a live performance in Britain; Lynch is a
bit of a klutz herself.
Madonna's "Vogue" turned 25 years old on Friday, the same day Glee ended its 6 season run. I must first point out that I am not, nor ever have been, a slavish devotee to Madonna, though I have admired her work ethic, and her business sense, over the years.  For decades she's been known as the woman who can, quite cagily, reinvent herself with new images.  That rare ability has kept her on the A list of recording celebrities while other performers' careers wane and fizzle.
It was during Madonna's fling with Warren Beatty that she appeared in his film Dick Tracy and began her Marilyn Monroe period. While portraying mob moll Breathless Mahoney, she was prompted by Beatty to examine her character's inner thoughts/desires.  A list of celebrities was already percolating in her mind when Madonna became aware of the newest dance craze in hip gay nightclubs.  She married the two concepts, and "Vogue" was born.  It hit #1 around the world.
Glee was unable to repeatedly reinvent itself like Madonna, so after an opening season which dominated pop culture for a time, the show slid into irrelevance pretty quickly. 
I claim to have ignored Glee since its first season, but the
Dance Party in these pages begs to differ: the show has
provided 3 previous entrees.  When juvenile male lead Corey
Monteith OD'd, I wrote a little obit here.

I watched the show during that first season, but must confess that I abandoned it thereafter;  I was too frustrated by the wildly fluctuating quality of the show, where one episode would be clever and heartbending and true, and the next would sink like a boot in quicksand.  But there were enough "Gleeks" out there to sustain a run of 6 seasons.
After its first season, Lea Michele and Matthew Morrison were invited back to their Broadway roots to perform at the Tony Awards.  Michele was an alum of Spring Awakening, and Morrison had a slew of White Way Credits.  I included his Tony performance here.
Glee had its share of compelling characters, most of them teenagers who were treated as outcasts by  their peers, but the single Emmy winner among the regular cast was Jane Lynch. 
Turns out Jane Lynch CAN sing, and
CAN resemble Madonna. After this
breakout episode, Jane sang quite a
few times on Glee. She also headlined
the Annie revival on Broadway, and now
that the show is done, she is constructing
a cabaret act. I toasted Lynch on her
birthday a while back, here.
As she was playing the in-house antagonist, it seemed inappropriate that her character break into song, so for the majority of the first season, Jane's Coach Sylvester remained musically mute.  Then an episode came around which featured the music of Madonna, and Glee took a chance that Jane Lynch could carry a tune.
Glee's finale spent a lot of time in Flashback Mode, but as far as I could tell, all the material was new except for this poignant moment. They included the first, and best, sequence which defined the show. In this pivotal scene from the pilot, the original Glee club perform "Don't Stop Believin' " in an empty theatre;  it is the first time we see these kids triumph.  The recording of this song became a substantial hit during season one, and it has special significance as it showcases the late Corey Monteith.
As I mentioned, the series finale of Glee was broadcast on Friday;  I succumbed to the temptation to tune in.  I was lost only a bit of the time, as the creators wisely chose to focus the finale on the original members of the glee club, those same characters which had drawn the audience to the show in the first place. They shamelessly pulled at the heartstrings, showing us "before and after" portraits of these folks;  it was a fitting end to the series.
I suspect that most of Glee's large cast will sink into obscurity soon enough, but a few of them are already making waves on their own. Lea Michele is rumored to be returning to the stage in the first major revival of Funny Girl, and Amber Riley is touring with BeyoncĂ© (just as her character announced in the "flash forward" segment of the finale). Chris Colfer has already written and produced a well-received indie film, and Matthew Morrison is in previews on Broadway playing J.M.Barry in the musical version of Finding Neverland.  And Jane Lynch is hitting the road with her new cabaret act.
But back to this week's Dance Party, which features Jane Lynch performing the Madonna smash "Vogue."  I do not know if this is a true, frame-by-frame recreation of Madonna's video, but who cares?  It's great fun.  Like Rita Hayworth, she gives good face.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Friday Dance Party: Joel and Me

He has a few years on me (about 25) and I have a few inches on him (about 7), but still, it must be said: Joel Grey and I are practically twins. 
Joel Grey has always been on my radar, but the rest of the world sort of forgot him until last week when, at the age of 82, he came out. His popularity is unlikely to diminish due to this non-news, though I have read the obligatory whining from a few cranks who complain that he should have revealed his sexuality decades ago, at the height of his fame. My feeling is that, as long as his being closeted hurts no one, he should remain there until he feels secure enough to throw open the door.
Like most of the world, I first became aware of Grey from his Tony/Oscar winning turn(s) as the Emcee in Cabaret.  I've written several times about my fascination with this musical, and with this character, which was on my bucket list before they invented that term.  I was lucky to scratch the role off that list around 1990.
Joel Grey's Emcee, with his "Two Ladies"

My Emcee, with my "Two Ladies."  One can hardly tell us apart.
Here's Grey in the drag which opens the
second act of Cabaret.
But I had already seen Grey live onstage twice before I played the role he created.  I wrote a long while ago about seeing Joel play John Adams in 1776 in summer stock, a performance which placed that role on my bucket list as well.   

As specified in the script, my Emcee also
opened act 2 in drag. Twins, right?
After Grey's success in Cabaret, he headlined a couple of musicals which were not big hits. His 1975 flop Goodtime Charley attempted to musicalize (get this) the story of Joan of Arc, as seen through the eyes of the dauphin of France who later becomes Charles VII. Maybe this would have made an effective opera, but as a musical comedy, not so much.

Goodtime Charley must have been a
hoot. The opening number is sung by
warrior king Henry V of England and
Queen Isabella of Bavaria. And Ann
Reinking as Joan of Arc? Wow. The
production folded after a few months
when Grey left to make a movie.
Just like everybody else, I missed Grey in Goodtime Charley, but I did catch his next stinker. 

The Grand Tour concerned a Polish Jew escaping Nazi occupied France and had the bad luck to open the same season as Sweeney Todd, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and They're Playing Our Song. Hard to believe I chose to see Grand Tour instead of those other shows, but I was so enamored of Joel Grey back then, I did (you guessed it, I wrote a bit about seeing it here).    
At least once, I played a role before Joel did. In grad school, I played Moonface Martin in Anything Goes. Sadly, I have no pictures of that show, you'll have to take my word for it that I stole the thing. Only a few years ago, Grey played the same part in the Broadway revival starring Sutton Foster. He turned 80 years old during the run.
Joel Grey's several flops following Cabaret suggests a point I realized a while ago.  Though he certainly has the talent and the charisma to headline a show, he is most successful "in support."  Over the years he has succeeded in roles such as the Wizard in Wicked, Amos in Chicago, and the aforementioned Moonface in Anything Goes.  But when he is handed a starring role, such as in Goodtime Charley or The Grand Tour, he's less effective. This is another area in which he and I are similar.  I'm much better in support, too.
These days, the Emcee is considered the leading male role in Cabaret, but when Joel won the Tony (and then the Oscar) for it, the part was considered supporting.
This week's Dance Party illustrates the point.  We both played the title role in  George M!, which attempted to musicalize the life of showman George M. Cohan.  (Beware of any show title with an exclamation point, it usually means it's trying too hard.)  George M! was another attempt to place Joel Grey in a leading musical role, with minimal success.  It SHOULD have worked like gangbusters, as Grey was at the height of his hoofing and belting powers and was a great choice to play Cohan. But the character himself was a selfish megalomaniac who trashed his marriage while bullying his way to Broadway.  In the 1910s, he did all he could to squelch the formation of a stage actors union (the union which became Actors Equity).  Joel did his best to give this bulldozer some charm, but to little avail.  
ABC produced a 1-hour
version of George M!, which
only proved that the role was
chilly and unlikeable. Here are
Nanette Fabray and Jack
Cassidy as Cohan's parents.

And I didn't do any better.  Back in 1983, I played George M! in dinner theatre.  I could act the part fairly well, being chilly and unlikeable myself, but my singing was suspicious and my dancing was downright dreadful. Ah, well, Joel recovered from the failure of George M!, and I suppose I did too. See how we're practically twins?
Here is my George M! with my stage parents. I don't remember their names, which surely protects their reputations. My performance had nothing going for it other than a rather generalized enthusiasm.
Our Dance Party comes from the Tony Awards, as so many of them do.  The clip includes a medley of a few of the songs from George M!, which is appropriate I suppose.  The show's score contains about a dozen medleys, as the writers attempted to include about a thousand of Cohan's songs (he was nothing if not prolific).  We may roll our eyes at the Over-The-Top presentational style which Joel brings to this clip, but it demonstrates the ultimate song-and-dance man which Grey has always been.  Again, practically twins.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Dance Party: That Existential Problem In Tights

She swore like a sailor, had a voice like a cab driver, and charged through life mowing down anything in her way.  Through it all, she remained a class act.

Elaine Stritch
Even after two Tony nods, Stritch found her career
dangerously dry in the mid-60s. She tended bar to
support herself (appropriately, at Elaine's in NY).

The recording session for the cast album of
Company was preserved in a documentary, which
showed Stritch struggling to nail "Ladies Who
Lunch" at the end of a grueling day. The producers
were smart to spring for a second session, which
she attended in full make-up, ready to perform that
night's show.

I first became aware of Stritch when I listened to the original cast album of Company. Who the hell was that brassy woman with the bass voice shouting about ladies who lunch?  Hers was the 11:00 number, and is, with the possible exception of "Being Alive," the most famous song from the show.  And Elaine's rendition is considered the definitive version.

Her first Tony nod came for Inge's Bus Stop, in
which she played acerbic cafe owner Grace. The
film version was only loosely based on the play,
and Stritch's role went to Eileen Heckart. 35 years
later, Elaine returned the insult, and replaced
Heckart as Wilma Bern on One Life To Live.
Our heroine escaped a priviledged but emotionally distant childhood as soon as she could;  she moved to New York from her upscale Detroit suburb before her 18th birthday.  She tells this story and many more in her acclaimed one-woman performance, Elaine Stritch At Liberty

Stritch toured the country as the lead in Call Me Madame, and together with her success "in support" in Pal Joey, it was time for a starring role in a musical on Broadway.  That role was in Goldilocks, an unsuccessful parody of the silent film era.  The project brought Elaine to the attention of Noel Coward, above, who fell in love with her dry style and wrote a new show for her. Sail Away provided our gal with her second Tony nomination, (and first in a musical).  Her competition was so fierce that she lost the award to two others, the only time the Best Actress in a Musical has ended in a tie.  Both Diahann Carroll, for No Strings, and Anna Maria Alberghetti, for Carnival, took home the trophy.
She spent some time in drama school, but it was only a few years until she began her Broadway career.  She made a splash in a revival of Pal Joey, playing a reporter who interviews the star and delivers "Zip," the kind of comic song for which Stritch became well known. 
Everyone was sure Elaine would finally
win her Tony when her performance as
Joanne in Company became the talk of
the town. She lost it to hoofer Helen
Gallagher in No, No, Nanette.

She was at her best in this kind of number, telling a story or making a list;  all her signature songs are in this vein.  A straight-out love ballad was not her strong suit, but give her a tale to tell, and she was in her element.
The only time I saw Elaine Stritch in person was in this revival of A Delicate Balance, in which she stole the show from some very accomplished actors.  It's true that she is more famously remembered for her musical roles, but her performance as Claire was one of the most memorable I have ever seen. She was again nominated for the Tony, and would have won it, if Zoe Caldwell hadn't swept into town and flattened the competition as Maria Callas in Master Class.
Elaine was nominated for the Tony five times during her career, finally winning for her one-woman show, At Liberty
Elaine's lone Tony was for
her solo show, in a category
which no longer exists.

Back in 1996, she told 60 Minutes that, if a performer believes she deserves the Tony, she does not have to win it.  Many years later, she had changed her mind.  Talking to the New York Times, Stritch recently confessed to a deep disappointment that she had not been rewarded for her lifetime of theatrical work sooner.  I agree with her.
After the Broadway run of Company, Elaine took the show to the West End, where she was so well received, she stayed. In London she had great success with Small Craft Warnings, by Tennessee Williams, and with The Gingerbread Lady, by Neil Simon (the latter would eventually end up as the film Only When I Laugh, with Marsha Mason taking the part created by Stritch). The Brits seemed to accept our gal's dry, deadpan delivery better than Americans, at least in the 70s. Her biggest UK success was as the star of the Britcom Two's Company, above, which earned Elaine a BAFTA nod. The show ran four seasons.
The first of Elaine's 3 Emmys was earned for this portrayal of
a feminist attorney defending Felicity Huffman (before she
became a Desperate Housewife), on Law and Order.
Though primarily known for her stage work, our gal had some success on screen, both large and small. 
Despite 6 decades on stage, Stritch only
became a national celebrity as this
recurring character on 30 Rock.

She appeared in the 1950s melodrama A Farewell to Arms, and she starred in a sitcom in the early 60s which was based on the stage play My Sister Eileen.  The majority of her screen fame, though, came late in her life, as she turned in hilarious performances as mouthy maternal figures. 
As Mia Farrow's mother in Woody Allen's
September, there was legitimate Oscar buzz.

She played Dyan Cannon's mother (Out To Sea), Winona Ryder's grandmother (Autumn in New York), and Jane Fonda's mother-in-law (Monster-In-Law).  Most famously, she played Alec Baldwin's mother in several episodes of TVs 30 Rock, earning five Emmy nominations for her performances in that sitcom, and winning in 2007.
The sheer longevity of Elaine Stritch's career means that she lost a few choice roles along the way.  She was in the very first Honeymooners sketch, above, before the thing became a full show.  She played upstairs neighbor Trixie.  Jackie Gleason recognized at once that Elaine's comic expertise would upset the balance of the show, and she was replaced.  Even more famously, Stritch auditioned for, and lost, the role in The Golden Girls which ultimately went to Bea Arthur.  If she had landed that role, the entire trajectory of her career would have been altered.
We are very glad Elaine Stritch continued to perform later in life.  Let's get to this week's clips! 
Our gal was known as a leading interpreter of Sondheim's
work. "Ladies Who Lunch" and "Broadway Baby" were both
signature tunes for Stritch. If she had been in the original
production of A Little Night Music, "Liaisons" might have
become another.

Yes, there are two, but this first one is quite short.  The most recent revival of A Little Night Music starred Catherine Zeta-Jones (who won the Tony) and Angela Lansbury.  When those stars departed, the producers stumbled upon a plan to keep the show running a while longer.  Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch assumed the mother/daughter roles in the show.  Here is about a minute of Stritch's performance as aging courtesan Madame Armfeldt;  the song illustrates Elaine's expertise with the "memory song," in which she can captivate an audience simply by telling a story.  The song was originated by the great Hermione Gingold:

The above performance was the last she was to give on Broadway, but she didn't give up. 
This recent documentary chronicles our star's
final few years in NY, in which she struggles
with memory loss and balance issues.

Elaine's last New York appearance was a week's engagement at her favorite cabaret, the Cafe Carlyle (I wrote about that here). She lived there, too;  she confessed to 60 Minutes that she began living in hotels when her diabetes became so severe, she needed to have someone within reach at all times.  When her health finally became so poor that even hotel staffers were not enough, Elaine left New York and returned to her hometown. She was only there a year or so before her death last week.

What a career our gal had. This week's Dance Party showcases Elaine Stritch's fine comic style, singing a Rodgers and Hart classic from A Connecticut Yankee.  Years ago, Danny Kaye's wife and beard, Sylvia Fine Kaye, hosted a series of programs for television, documenting some of musical theatre's enduring treasures.  This song is one.  This performer is another.