Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Why Elaine Stritch Mattered - And Not Just To Broadway!

One of Broadway's brightest lights dimmed recently, then flickered and has now faded altogether.
Elaine Stritch has died.
Elaine Stritch who taught us all about The Ladies Who Lunch while she tartly asked "Does anyone still wear a hat?" in Stephen Sondheim's Company.
Elaine Stritch, who coaxed us to Sail Away (and did, indeed wear a hat) in Noel Coward's musical of the same name.
Elaine Stritch, who gloriously reinterpreted Jerome Kern's Why Do I Love You? in Hal Prince's brilliant production of Showbaot.
Elaine Stritch, who originated (and created the definitive version) of the show-stopper, Zip in Pal Joey.
Elaine Stitch, who made us never forget Bongo, Bongo, Bongo (I Don't Wanna Leave The Congo) in Make Mine Manhattan.
Elaine Stritch who wowed Broadway in one of the greatest one-woman shows ever, Elaine Stritch, At Liberty.
Elaine Strtich the actress. Elaine Stritch the comedienne. Elaine Stritch, the singer and cabaret doyenne. Elaine Stritch, the tell-it-like-it is, hard-to-fool, sharp-tongued realist who still made us laugh and still conjured up collective regrets and still nailed the 11 o'clock show-stopper or the classic lump-in-the-throat number.
Elaine Stritch who naturally commanded the spotlight.
Elaine Stritch, The Broadway Baby who could pivot on a dime from pathos to guffaws.
That Elaine Stritch -- the one-and-only -- is gone.
What a glorious performer she was! What a trouper! What a relentless (though nonetheless unfinished) perfectionist!
What a joy it was to see her live in Elaine Stritch, At Liberty and Showboat and Company.
She has appeared in numerous stage plays and musicals, feature films, and many television programs. She was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1995.
Elaine Stritch made her professional stage debut in 1944 and her Broadway debut in the comedy Loco in 1946. Notable Broadway credits include her Tony Award nominated roles in the original production of William Inge's 1955 play Bus Stop, Noël Coward's 1961 musical Sail Away, Stephen Sondheim's 1970 musical Company, which includes her performance of the song The Ladies Who Lunch, the 1996 revival of the Edward Albee play A Delicate Balance and her 2001 Tony Award winning one-woman show Elaine Stritch at Liberty.
In the 1970s, she relocated to London, starring in several West End productions, including Tennessee Williams' Small Craft Warnings in 1973 and the Neil Simon play The Gingerbread Lady in 1974. She also starred with Donald Sinden in the ITV sitcom Two's Company, which ran from 1975 to 1979 and earned her a BAFTA TV Award nomination. It was there that she married her great love, John Bay.
After John Bay's death from brain cancer in 1982, Stritch returned to America, and after a further lull in her career and struggles with alcoholism, Stritch began performing again. She appeared in a one-night only concert of Company in 1993 and as Parthy in a Broadway revival of the musical Show Boat in 1994.
In 1996 she played Claire in a revival of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance, with Variety writing: "Equally marvelous is Stritch, with a meatier role than her recent foray as Parthy in 'Show Boat.' To watch her succumb to the vast amounts of alcohol Claire ingests, folding and refolding her legs, slipping – no, oozing – onto the floor, her face crumpling like a paper bag, is to witness a different but equally winning kind of thespian expertise. It's a master class up there." 
She won an Emmy Award in 1993 for her guest role on Law & Order and another in 2004 for the television documentary of her one woman show. From 2007 to 2012, she had a recurring role as Jack Donaghy's mother, Colleen, on NBC's 30 Rock, a role that won her a third Emmy in 2008.
She appeared in the Broadway revival of the Sondheim-Wheeler musical A Little Night Music from July 2010 to January 2011, succeeding Angela Lansbury in the role of Madame Armfeldt, the wheelchair-bound mother who remembers her life as a courtesan in the song "Liaisons". The AP reviewer of the musical (with the two new leads) wrote "Devotees of Stritch, who earned her Sondheim stripes singing, memorably, The Ladies Who Lunch in Company 40 years ago, will revel in how the actress, who earned a huge ovation before her very first line at a recent preview, brings her famously salty, acerbic style to the role of Madame Armfeldt."
Elaine Stritch performed a cabaret act in New York City at Cafe Carlyle of the Carlyle Hotel, where she was a resident, since 2005 until she left New York in 2013. Her first show at the Carlyle was titled At Home at the Carlyle.
Last year Elaine Stritch officially announced her retirement and she moved back to Michigan, where she was born and raised. This coincided with a new documentary, Elaine Stritch, Shoot Me. The film won many accolades for its honest portrait of this great American legend.
Originally published 7/17/14.

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