There are only five performances, though the Times suggests they are not really performances; perhaps they should be called "evenings." But on Opening Night, Liza was there with Tony Bennett. So was Bernadette Peters and her Into The Woods creator James Lapine. Even Tom Hanks spent his only night off from his own show to schlep up to the Upper East Side to pay tribute. Here in New York, attention is definitely being paid: Elaine Stritch is saying goodbye.
Aging's a bitch, no matter who you are, but when you are a stage performer, it's particularly grueling. It's why Peter O'Toole retired not long ago (I wrote about that here), and why Dame Maggie Smith has lamented that, because of advancing age, she will never return to the stage. At 88, Elaine Stritch is calling it quits.
|Stritch can get laughs anywhere, including in a trashcan.|
Beckett's Endgame was never so funny.
Decades of diabetes and alcohol abuse have taken their toll, as well as the natural effects of growing old. She's had several minor strokes and several physical falls, one of which broke her hip, requiring her to use a cane. Her memory is so faulty, according to the Times critic, that her farewell cabaret is sadly uncomfortable. She also admits to being back on the sauce, allowing herself one drink per day. At age 88 and in poor health, is anybody going to tell her no?
Despite a career which is stunning in its longevity (she made her Broadway debut in the 40s), she is hardly a household name, and I doubt middle America could pick her out of a line-up.
|When Company took her to London, she met her|
husband, and stayed. She did Neil Simon (The
Gingerbread Lady) and Tennessee Williams
(Small Craft Warnings), and spent four seasons
headlining the above Britcom, Two's Company.
But she's truly a theatrical icon. It's hard to explain her appeal; she may not be one of those "love her or hate her" types, but there are still lots of people who do not understand why she is so revered. She took over for Uta Hagen in the original Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Woody Allen has made good use of her in several films. Even David Letterman has used her, in a running gag about a horny housewife. She will be remembered, most especially, for her musical performances, but even in her prime, her voice was more a bray than a belt. And in recent years, her musical ear has become downright lousy. Still, she's sometimes called "Broadway's last First Lady," mostly due to her musical resume.
She understudied Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam, and headlined the national tour. She has also toured in Mame and The King and I.
|As Joanne in Company.|
Noel Coward placed her in a supporting role in Sail Away, then elevated her to the lead out of town. Her performance in Company is considered one of the great performances in the history of the musical theatre.
Through most of her critically acclaimed Broadway career, the Tony Award remained elusive.
|Why do the wrong people travel?, Stritch wondered in Sail Away.|
|The only time I saw Stritch live onstage was in A |
Delicate Balance. She was spectacular.
She is also a strong dramatic actress, evidenced by her two Tony nods for straight plays: she lost her award in Bus Stop to Una Merkel, whoever the hell that is, and her award for A Delicate Balance went to Zoe Caldwell's Maria Callas (Master Class). She finally won the award for her autobiographical one-woman show At Liberty.
|Elaine Stritch: At Liberty is available on DVD and is worth seeing. She relates her journey as an artist and as a woman with surprising self-deprecation and candor. Her stories about Brando and Garland and Merman and others are riveting.|
|Playing Alec Baldwin's mother|
has earned her multiple Emmy nods, and one
win so far. Look for a final nomination for her
this year as well, for an episode in which she
comes out as a lesbian.
Her guest turn as a lawyer on Law and Order in 1993 earned her a trophy (she beat out, among others, another Broadway oldster, Gwen Verdon, who was nominated for an episode of Homicide), and she was repeatedly nominated for her recurring role as Alec Baldwin's mother in 30 Rock (she won in 2007). Her third and most meaningful Emmy win was for the HBO presentation of the show for which she won her lone Tony, Elaine Stritch At Liberty. It is fitting, then, as we say goodbye to a true theatrical treasure, that this week's Dance Party comes from that acclaimed one-woman show.
|All of New York is hurrying to the Carlyle this week, for Elaine's swan song.|
But there is a third song which became closely associated with Stritch in her later career. In 1985, our gal participated in an all-star concert staging of Follies, and stopped the show with her rendition of this number. There is a clip of that performance out there, but I prefer the one below.
|The man's shirt over black tights was a|
signature look for Stritch through the years.
This week's Dance Party is from At Liberty, and features our Elaine at her best: honest, rueful, and endearing. Yes, Elaine Stritch can be endearing. I imagine this week's farewell "evenings" at the Carlyle are pretty endearing, too; how could they not be? A great theatrical performer is bringing her career to an end. But like everything else she's done in her life, she's doing it on her terms. Everybody rise.