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Soaring solo: Stritch in Elaine Stritch at Liberty.

One Lively Lady
By James Yeara

Elaine Stritch at Liberty
Constructed by John Lahr, reconstructed by Elaine Stritch, musical direction by Rob Bowman, Directed by George C. Wolfe
Adirondack Theatre Festival, June 17

Adirondack Theatre Festival’s summer season got a kick-ass kickoff in its freshly renovated home, the newly christened Charles R. Wood Theater in Glens Falls (formerly the Woolworth’s store that ATF performed in seven out of the last nine summers). Straight from its run on HBO, the one-woman show by 79-year-old Broadway legend Elaine Stritch made an entertaining and appropriate prelude to ATF’s 10th-anniverary season: Stritch, with fellow Broadway legend Jason Robards, did a performance of A.R. Gurney’s audience-friendly Love Letters 10 years ago to benefit the new festival. And this performance, the Tony Award-winning Elaine Stritch at Liberty, was as audience-pleasing as a two-and-a-half-hour solo piece could possibly be.

Fans of the HBO show, which expands upon Stritch’s 2-year-old solo show with backstage scenes and historical footage from her years in show business, might be struck with how much livelier Stritch is live. Without the aid of TV editing, Stritch holds a live audience through an intimacy and downright sexiness that are startling in a legend. Stritch’s smile still dazzles, and the ingenue’s teasing promise is still faintly evident, even if the stories and the occasional verbal hesitations reveal a performer long past her ingenue years. And in songs from her Broadway hits like Pal Joey, Sail Away and, most movingly, Company, Stritch’s whiskey-voiced singing still stings (“The Ladies Who Lunch” a prime example).

Stritch filled the evening not just with songs—though they were numerous and always performed with a pitch, timing and enunciation that were perfect—but with snippets and stories, not just of her upper-class upbringing (she’s the niece of Chicago’s Cardinal Stritch) and boarding-school youth, but also of her vast theatrical experiences: Stories of the inaugural production of William Inge’s 1955 classic Bus Stop and of a dreadful Ohio summer stock—in which she settles an old score with Gloria Swanson—were particularly engaging.

Her personal asides, especially those regarding her experiences with fellow New School student Marlon Brando, brought out a kittenish aspect in Stritch 60 years after Brando’s failed attempt at seducing her, and when Stritch announced that she was looking for her next husband, there was no shortage of hands raised. If Elaine Stritch at Liberty lacked the relevance and innovation of past solo works at ATF, most recently in Bill Bowers’ excellent It Goes Without Saying, the 10th-season inaugural production was filled with verve, wit, and one very sexy 79-year-old singer-actress-comedienne-raconteur.

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