What does a a star of Broadway and cabaret do when she is 86 years old and has trouble remembering some of her lyrics and the order of her program? If she’s the ever-clever diva Elaine Stritch, she co-opts her eager audience members into becoming accomplices who enjoy the situation as she turns aging into a plus. Her musical director and pianist Rob Bowman cues her to everyone’s delight as she prowls the stage and lets us in on the awe she feels on this occasion singing only works by Stephen Sondheim.
For nearly two hours she holds forth displaying her acting, singing and timing skills, all blended into a lesson on how to reward a crowd there to show adulation and cheer her on with applause and standing ovations. Yes, the show Saturday night, Oct. 11, 2011, part of the seventh Annual Broadway Cabaret Festival presented by The Town Hall, was a full-fledged Stritch love-in during which she demonstrated that she still has want it takes. And she still looks great wearing a top extended over black tights that show off her slim legs.
Creator/writer/ host Scott Siegel set the tone about her commanding presence in his introduction when he jokingly turned the obligatory cell phone announcement into a warning: “Turn off your cell phones or Elaine will kill you.”
It took her a bit of verbal warming up before she did kill, show biz style, singing “Rose’s Turn” from “Gypsy” (lyrics by Sondheim, music by Jule Styne), prefaced by “I never got to do the part so I’ll do it now” (Applause!) And she was extraordinary, plunging herself with her acting into Rose’s emotions and hammering it all into a smashing rendition.
Stritch expressed a bit too much adulation for Sondheim, which served to up the ante. Before she sang “Rose’s Turn” she spoke of worrying how she would top such an opening number. She needn’t have worried, as she worked a host of favorites into her program. She turned “Broadway Baby” into a personal triumph, and when she sang “The Ladies Who Lunch,” she had her audience wanting more.
The star’s sense of humor remains sharp. In telling a story, when she mentioned that she and her pianist were working on songs in a Carlyle Hotel rehearsal room, she quipped, “Rehearsal room?--it’s a suite we use when the people staying there are out to lunch.” She joked, too, about how many times she had promised to mention the Carlyle, where she lives.
Stritch knows her power. At one point she joshed about all she has to do to please the crowd is turn her head this way or that. She’s right. Her audience has clearly come to celebrate her, as other audiences are likely to do as long as she continues to take center stage. Reviewed at The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Phone: 212-840-2824.