Elaine Stritch At Liberty
If a three hour one woman show of song, wise cracks and wistful memories by a musical comedy septuagenarian sounds like a reminiscent nightmare down memory lane - with only sympathy, pity and just plain embarrassment for the silly old fool on stage as ones travel companions - then think again. Elaine Stritch has an incredible amount of energy, verve and razzmatazz and is able to mesmerise a theatre audience.
During the course of the evening Elaine takes you through her life and tells you of her love of the stage and alcohol and of some of the men she met along the way, along with a collection of songs by people like Sondheim, Coward, Rogers and Hammerstein.
At the tender age of thirteen, her father gave her half of a Whiskey Sour cocktail at a family celebration. She describes how, as a result, she slowly metamorphoses into Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn and numerous other film stars and went on to dominate the family gathering. And so her love of acting and of booze was born a symbiosis relationship that was to both sustain and haunt her throughout most of her adult life.
Suffering terribly from stage fright it was her friend, the bottle that gave her the courage to go out and perform night after night. “After all, one cannot go out there alone”. She reels off numerous successful, and a few not so successful shows she has starred in, informing us of which particular beverage she drank to preserve her courage though out.
At a party in honour of Judy Garland, she tells of how the guests slowly disappear as the night draws on, until only she and Miss Garland are left. Eventually at 8am in the morning, Judy Garland stands up and says “Elaine, I never thought I would ever say this, but Goodnight!”
She tells of her encounter with Marlon Brando, who after one date informs her “Elaine, there are only two things I want from you -silence and distance”. Of how her catholic upbringing thwarted her initial attempt at marriage, bizarrely by first the lack of and then the discovery of a baptism certificate. She rejects Ben Gazzara in favour of Rock Hudson, and as Elaine says "And we all know what a bum decision that turned out to be!" She does finally discover love and a happy marriage, but after 10 years sadly her husband, J Bay dies”.
Towards the end of the show she reflects on her life, “this existential problem in tights” by quoting Beckett “Absent always”. This described her life, until recently, now she looks back and thinks “Absent almost always’.
Her voice is still amazingly strong and the nine-member orchestra does not once drown her out. She knows how to capture a song and it is this ability that obviously gave her that elusive quality of a musical star.
Her outfit, white shirt and black tights, is either the proverbial attempt to pass mutton off as lamb, or an unapologetic statement of who she is -loud and brash. I did find the use of the one sole prop, an high chair, annoying. It was carried and moved around the vast empty stage for no apparent reason and I found it totally distracting. The show at three hours is far too long and some much-needed pruning would not go amiss. Not because Miss Stitch ever becomes boring, far from it, but because she is overpowering. Like strong liquor, better consumed in small doses. A two-hour show would have left me floating, as it was a three-hour show left be feeling slightly inebriated.
Elaine is one Broadway babe who struts her stuff. She is often sharp, sometimes bitter but always palatable. Loud and aggressive she clearly has a sophistication that can only be learnt from life’s school of hard knocks. What can one say of Elaine, “She’s one hell of a girl with one heck of a show!”
What other critics had to say.....
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "A triumph of ageless personality and performance." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Still here, packing a punch." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Our heroine is unfailingly fresh, funny and ruefully honest...A non-stop masterclass in comic timing." LYN GARDNER for THE GUARDIAN says, " It is not what she can do that we are applauding, but the fact that after more than 50 years in "the biz" she is still upright..." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Almost every moment of this show is pure pleasure."
External links to full reviews from newspapers