on September 8, 2002
One of the first questions I imagine many people would ask about buying this CD is WHY would anyone buy a CD to HEAR Elaine Stritch sing? Let's face it...she's no Bernadette, Audra or Heather Headley. She's one hell of a performer, that's for sure, so one might wonder whether Elaine's performance is best preserved in a more visual format, such as a DVD or VHS. I too had hesitation when I considered purchasing this CD.
However, after the first 1 minute of the first disc, I knew I was in for something uniquely special: the wit of the opening sets the tone for what is going to be one entertaining journey through one woman's life and career. This is not a cabaret performance...it is truly a one-woman show during which you follow Elaine through the ups and downs of her career. You laugh with her as she recounts absolutely hysterical anecdotes about her work (such as her original understanding of the Sondheim lyric for "Ladies Who Lunch). And as you witness Elaine reliving her evolution, you feel compassion and are brought closer to her.
I was not fortunate enough to see this show in NYC, but from what I understand, there are approximately 15 minutes from the show that are missing from the CD, which is a shame since this is a 2-disc set, and there is plenty of remaining space on each disc. I imagine this could be a huge negative for anyone who saw the show and wanted something tangible to preserve their experience. However, not having seen the show, I didn't feel that this recording was lacking in anything other than 15 more minutes of glorious Elaine.
Her singing may not be a reason to buy this CD, but this is one remarkable performance (worthy of the special event Tony Award she won for this show). And truth be told, her singing doesn't distract one bit from the power of her performance.
on April 15, 2002
Late in the second act of "Elaine Stritch At Liberty", Elaine Stritch tells a story about an appearance just after she gave up drinking. "The first time I ever came out here alone, a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, and I don't even like to think about the fear I was experiencing in the wings that night before I went on. And out of the blue Michael Feinstein squeezes my hand. `You'll stop shows again, Elaine, not tonight. Tonight, just get through it.'" Michael Feinstein was right about stopping shows again. Elaine stops this show cold three times with "Why Do the Wrong People Travel," "I'm Still Here," and "Stephen Sondheim's three act play, `The Ladies Who Lunch.'" At 78 Elaine commands the stage for two hours and can still belt them out. In between, she recounts "the ups and downs of an actress in the American theater."
The first act is played for fun. Said Marlon Brando after a bad date: "I want two things from you, Elaine: silence and distance." Then at age 20, because she looked 40, Elaine understudied for Ethel Merman in "Call Me Madam" in New York, but she also had the part of Melba in "Pal Joey" in New Haven. Here, between the lines of her "Pal Joey" song "Zip", she explains the logistics:
"Day 3, Wednesday, matinee day, Imperial Theater, first show, half hour, 2 o'clock, check with Merman, Merritt Parkway, New Haven, Schubert Theater, (I adore the great Confucius / and the lines of luscious Lucius / Zip, I am so eclectic), Schubert Theater, New Haven, Merritt Parkway, New York. Second show, half hour, 7:30, check with Merman, Merritt Parkway, New Haven, Schubert Theater, (I don't care for either Mickey / Mouse or Rooney makes me sicky / Zip, I'm a little hectic.) Schubert Theater, Merritt Parkway, New York. Day 6, Saturday, another matinee day. Merman, Merritt, New Haven, Schubert. Schubert, New Haven, Meritt, New York. Merman, Merritt, New Haven, Schubert. Schubert, New Haven, Meritt, New York. And you wonder why I drank?!" Elaine works through this - and much more - at a breathless pace and never drops a syllable.
As she worked on a sitcom, there was a phone call from Noel Coward: "Stritchie! I have written a musical for New York in the fall. The musical is called "Sail Away". There's a part in it for you. It is not the lead. But it is a very, very, very, very good part."
"Oh my God, Mr. Coward, what if I'm not free, what if they pick up this sitcom in the fall?"
"Stritchie, I have seen the sitcom."
No one else ever did, but instead Broadway got to hear Noel Coward's "Why Do the Wrong People Travel" as only cruise director Stritch could sing it: "What explains this mass mania to leave Pennsylvania, and clack around like flocks of geese demanding dry martinis on the isles of Greece? On the smallest streets where the gourmets meet they invariably fetch up. And it's hard to make them accept a steak that isn't served rare and smeared with ketchup. Millions of tourists are churning up the gravel as they gaze at St. Peter's dome. Why oh why do the wrong people travel when the right people stay back home?".
The second act starts with the 1970 NY Times interview that resulted in Hal Prince's call and recollections of "Company" - discover Rosalind Russell's nickname - but it quickly becomes much more serious. The world loses Noel Coward and Elaine loses her beloved husband, taken by cancer after only 10 years of marriage. But the great tragedy and triumph is the drinking. "I'm sore as hell that I had to go through what I had to go through to get through what I had to get through. It almost all happened without me." Nevertheless, she was there and can now sing "I'm Still Here." She is indeed.
While singing "There's No Business Like Show Business," Elaine interrupts herself: " 'Next day on your dressing room they've hung a star . . .' There's good news and there's bad news. Good news: I have got a sensational acceptance speech for a Tony. Bad news: I've had it for 45 years." She'd better brush it up: it won't be long before she finally gets to use it.
Act 1 (CD 1): 1 hour, 8 minutes. Act 2 (CD2): 47 minutes.
on April 17, 2002
Elaine Stritch is an actress who should be seen on stage to be fully appreciated. I have not been fortunate enough to see "Elaine Stritch At Large", but I did see her in Sondheim's "Company". It is impossible to define her talent. It is so vast and her energy and drive are mesmerizing.
With this said I can highly recommend the cast album (and she is the only cast member) of her latest Broadway venture. What you hear is a fascinating life story told with complete candor.
Elaine Stritch has always been a "Broadway Baby." Her career was primarily in the theatre with a few forays into motion pictures and an aborted TV series. Most of her Broadway musicals were sub standard in quality and usually not big hits. However Stritch, as most friends and colleagues call her, always dominated the stage and held the audience and critics in her hand.
If you listen to this CD you will understand why. She tells the story of her life with songs from some of the shows she was in. Some are absolutely hilarious. Her relationship with Ben Gazzara, dealing with Ethel Merman in "Call Me Madam", her adoration for Rock Hudson. She left Ben Gazzara for Hudson not knowing, of course, that he was gay. "And we all know what a lousy mistake that was", she says.
She tells us of her 10 year marriage to John Bay and the happiness he brought her. Her years of drinking while on stage are truly heart breaking. But Stritch doesn't play for tears. She's a gutsy lady who lays it on the line. And it truly takes guts to do the show she is doing.
You'll laugh, you'll cry and you will cheer. Elaine Stritch is the kind of legend Broadway no longer has. Long may she rule
on July 1, 2002
This "in performance" recording of Elaine Stritch's recent one-woman Broadway smash is a real treat. Right from the start, she lets you know that this will be a no-holds-barred, honest (for show biz)evocation of her long tenure as a Broadway star. Granted, there's an incestuous quality to some of the proceedings. Stritch is hardly a household name and her fame exists primarily in metropolitan New York. Even there, she's never been a top flight star. But in this performance, recorded at the Public Theater, she's preaching to the converted. The audience clearly adores her and knows enough about her to not need cliff notes. If your not a fan or an initiate, some of her references may seem oblique and impenetrable. Still, this 77 year old woman delivers an energized and emotionally full performance that is alternately raunchy, hysterical, touching and generous. While Stritch has never had much of a voice, she clearly knows how to use it. The songs and the style are familiar to her, and what she lacks in vocal precision she makes up for with an interpretive style that completely involves the listener. You hear every word and meaning behind the lyrics. Her reminiscences about her life and career provide an awful lot of specifics about her triumphs and tragedies, but it is her WAY with these stories that entertains and draws us in. She sets up every laugh and every tear with the precision of a clock maker. Her story about speeding between New York and New Haven when she was appearing in two shows simultaneously is hysterical. She also sets up her classic song "The Ladies Who Lunch" early in the show, when she says that she thought the lyric "a piece of Mahler's" referred to a local restaurant's food. When she finally sings the song in the second act, the line gets a chuckle of recognition, then she throws in a punch line that made me laugh out loud. Throughout the show, Ms. Stritch is never less than completely committed to her star-turn, and she's earned the right. This is not only her story, but the story of a generation of performers, and of a time that has just about passed by. That makes this CD a sort of documentation of a style of entertainment that was once preeminent in the world, but has since lost its significance. Elaine Stritch embodies that style and shows us why the loss of significance is our loss too. The quality she brings to her work here is the quality that has always distinguished the best of the American theater. Sing out Elaine. You're still here.
on February 20, 2003
Plain and simple. Finally a definitive recording from the definitive Broadway Broad. There never was, and there will never be another "Stritchie" - Noel Coward, Judy Garland, Steven Sondheim (to mention just a few) knew it, and now the world knows it too, thanks to this brilliantly captured recording of her one woman show. Stritch proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that star quality is so much more that a pretty face with a pretty voice. The face shows the effects of 77 years of hard living, and the voice is past its "Have I got the blues" prime; yet none of that matters. The talent the beams forth is at its full 10,000 watt power. Stritch shows that a brilliant performance is rarely about hitting the correct pitch or sustaining the perfect note; it is about finding the truth in every word of every song or story, and conveying that truth to the audience...and she has always done that better than almost any performer to set foot on a stage. Whether she is relating a hysterical anecdote about the trials and tribulations of a struggling newcomer, revisiting one of her signature tunes ("The Ladies Who Lunch") or putting her own unique stamp on one new to her ("Something Good"), once Elaine has "sung" a song, it stays "sung". This recording captures the entire range of the ladies remarkable talent...from the hysterical reminisces of her misplaced longings for co-star Rock Hudson, heartbreaking interpretations of old warhorses "But Not for Me" and "The Party's Over", an "all stops out" version of "I'm Still Here", to confronting her struggles with alcoholism and diabetes with the humor and honesty that only she can, this recording is a treasure for anyone who loves the theatre, or simply loves life. Hal Prince himself, no stranger to great performers, once referred to la Strich as an ultimate interpreter of a song. After listening to Elaine work her magic for nearly two hours, it is indeed hard to argue with that assessment.
on June 25, 2002
This year for the Tony Awards 4 very amazing people were competing, including Barbara Cook and Bea Arthur. Yet out of the best came the best: Elaine Stritch. She has really seen it all and tells her life story to you with great songs that comes along with them. She tells you openly about her drinking problem and talks about Company, and sings her famous song "The Ladies Who Lunch," and also sings a song that I truly think is a great song, but is 100 times better when she sings it. She puts character in energy in to her songs. Ms. Stritch also talks about/tells you stories about Ethel Merman, Hal Prince, her experience in Pal Joey, where she had to go from a theatre in New York (where she was understanding Merman) and then go and sing her song "Zip" in New Haven Connecticut. She also talks about her first Broadway show and John Bay, the man she married. The CD is an amazing three hours of stories, songs, laughter, sadness, and most of all fun. Any person who lives with theatre needs this CD, it is not even an option.
on July 23, 2003
I just listened to this cd and I am still glowing from this brilliant and electrifying performance. Elaine Stritch is STILL a glorious and unique performer. The previous reviewer commented on her age and said that "she should retire". NONSENSE! No one can sell a song or instill the heart in a lyric as well as can Miss Stritch. As, for her relationship with Noel Coward, read the book of his personal reminisences, "The Noel Coward Diaries",in which he praises her in glowing terms as an actress and as a person. On her part, she has spoken fondly and respectfully about Noel in several interviews that I have read and seen over the years. BRAVA, MISS STRITCH! She is tops in my book!
on April 18, 2002
"It's not the work, it's the steps." PERFECT! Although my tickets to see Ms. Stritch are set for weeks from now, this is an absolutely infectious CD. I have to admit it -- move over, Bea Arthur. Although I saw Bea live and have the recording and thought Stritch couldn't top her, she has. This is a double CD set that is a MUST for any lover of the theater. Not only does Stritch give her distinct and impeccable (I say this truly) voice to the music, but her vignettes are funny, touching, and heart-breaking. Ms. Stritch is a "voice" that will never be forgotton. Hearing "Zip" and her Sondheim touchs make this a CD that will be a permanant favorite in my collection. A life life like "Strichy's" is unparalleled. Anyone who loves theater or who wants to enter the industry needs to listen to this CD long and hard! She's laughed, she's cried, she's got the t-shirt. I can only hope that when I visit the Neil Simon to see her live, I can see and hear what I've heard on this recording. Loves, laughs, liquor, and lucidity. Stritch is still here and is here to stay. This is not only a purchace, but an investment.
on April 3, 2002
I was lucky enough to attend 3 performances of Stritch At Liberty and to meet backstage for a few minutes with this amazing lady. All 3 performances were different and the one captured here shows Elaine Stritch at her best, human, powerful, self deprecating, tough, brassy, soft also. What is best caught here is the smile in her voice, in spite of its gravely quality, and her incredible sense of timing in telling a story, delivering the punchline to a joke or anecdote, or the lyrics of a song. Every word matters, every intention of the composers/lyricists is made clear. The audience reaction is also well captured on this recording. I do hope that a video of this concert will come out. For more than 2 hours, Stritch sings, hollers, belts, croons, talks, reminisces, dances, moves around the stage, with an energy that any 25 year old would envy. It is only when you see her leaving the theater that you realize that this is a petite and delicate 78 year old lady and her strength is all the most amazing. If you've seen the show, buy the CD. If you haven't, go see it and still buy the CD !!!! I barely knew who Ms. Stritch was when I bought the ticket to the show. Now I have become a fan. She has this effect on people.
on June 16, 2002
Yes, a 'Stritch in Time' is worth a thousand bucks [a thousand? Make that a few million] - SHE should charge us for this autopsy of the soul. BRILLIANT woman - she's our secret weapon - THIS is what the Spirit is all about. To say more about her work would be to betray - this is an acting BIBLE for the neophyte - Raw, Real and very, very moving.
GET IT? Oh, Yeah, you'll laugh - you will cry and you will feel this one to the core - and walk away refreshed, and new! GOT IT?