by Don Church & Tony Schillaci
No matter how many times the legendary Elaine Stritch does any one show, it’s always opening night for her and the lucky audience.
Her “Singin’ Sondheim… One Song at a Time,” which she created premiered on New Year’s Day 2010, at the Carlyle in New York City, just weeks before her 85th birthday. She admits to being “Unstoppable, I’m afraid. Why not?”
And she was again unstoppable for 90 no-intermission, show-stopping minutes – much to the delight of the full house – at the Hartford Stage Company’s summer home at the wonderful Roberts Theater at the Kingswood-Oxford School in West Hartford.
When the house lights went down the superb show band conducted by pianist Rob Bowan played Ms. Stritch on to thunderous applause. She was radiant in a stunning two-piece black outfit with black stockings all of which set off her white hair and simple diamond jewelry. Elegant and graceful just like the star herself. God-damned classy, as she might say.
She introduced the show by talking about the songs she was going to perform in this tribute to Stephen Sondheim, but was quick to add that she was much too young to sing “I’m Still Here.” Too bad. Now we’ll never get to hear her do a song that’s perfect for her incredible skills and talent.
Ms Stritch never got a chance to play Mamma Rose in “Gypsy” so she treated the audience to her interpretation of “Rose’s Turn.” She would have definitively won a Tony for it because she’s also a great actress.
Another highlight of the evening was “Send in the Clowns.” It was a much appreciated preview of her upcoming co-starring role opposite Bernadette Peters (starting on July 13) in the Broadway revival of “A Little Night Music.”
Ms Stritch made expert use of her talented and charismatic conductor/pianist Rob Bowman who cued her whenever she was up on a line or lyric. He and she not only seamlessly covered those moments, but got genuine laughs from a savvy audience. And her voice, though no longer at its peak – whose is later in life? – didn’t matter because as with all singers it’s the ‘intent’ – knowing the meaning and deeply feeling the lyrics of a song. And she’s got it!
We have to save some well-deserved applause for Hartford Stage Company’s (HSC) artistic director, Michael Wilson, for again bringing back Elaine Stritch to Connecticut. She was last at HSC reprieving her Broadway triumph “Elaine Stritch at Liberty” in 2008. It won the Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show. We can’t wait for next summer’s lineup of the greatest performers in the musical theater.
The Tony award-winning Hartford Stage Company has a stellar fall lineup. Go to www.hartfordstage.org for details. Box office: 860-527-5151
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