Soaring solo: Stritch in Elaine Stritch at Liberty.
Stritch at Liberty
by John Lahr, reconstructed by Elaine Stritch, musical direction
by Rob Bowman, Directed by George C. Wolfe
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.