I don't want to suffer for my art, but I'm awfully glad Elaine Stritch did.
If you know much about the American Musical Theater (for some reason, thatneeds to be Capitalized), you won't need much an introduction to Stritch.Possibly best known for introducing the song "Ladies Who Lunch" in StevenSondheim's Follies in 1970, Stritch has had a pioneering career intelevision, movies, and Broadway. It has not been a smooth ride.
Elaine Stritch: At Liberty is some or all of: the world's most tuneful AAtestimony, the world's shortest autobiography, or the most focused cabaretacts you'll ever hear. Recorded live over three nights at the end of hercabaret run (it later transferred uptown to Broadway), At Liberty is aharrowing 2-CD musical portrait of a steely talent overcoming aself-destructive streak nearly ˆ but not quite — as strong.
"Remarkable talent, Elaine," she says one of her producers told her onenight. "Don't fuck it up."
The show itself consisted of your basic nine-piece pit band and Stritchalone on stage ˆ except for a brilliantly wrought script by John Lahr (sonof the actor Burt and a journalist of some repute). There are stories hereof growing up impossibly sheltered in Michigan in what must have been theŒ30s, summer stock and a date with Marlon Brando, an engagement with BenGazarra, throwing over Gazarra for Rock Hudson, working with Noel Coward,Hal Prince and Steven Sondheim, and and and.
Throughout it all was the fear and the booze. It's entertaining to hear hermatch the shows she was in with the particular tipple she needed to getthrough them. It's less entertaining when you realize that she's startingto lose work because of it. And it's not entertaining at all to hear abouther nearly fatal diabetic collapse after one or three too many.
But don't forget the songs, not all of which she's sung before, but all ofwhich are brilliantly informed by a Technicolor life nearly thrown away."I'm Still Here" is brilliant, as you might expect, and so is "Ladies WhoLunch." A medley of "But Not for Me" and "If Love Were All" is aheartbreaking first-act closer. And her interpretation of two Noel Cowardsongs is a revelation.
I would not want Elaine Stritch's life, but I'm grateful for the chronicleof it that she's left.