Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Elaine Stritch and Solo Show
Also see Richard's review of Bat Boy: The Musical
Tony Award winning Elaine Stritch has finally arrived in San Francisco and she is wowing audiences on the Curran Theatre stage with her solo show, Elaine Sritch at Liberty. She is triumphal in keeping the audience interested in her life, from a young naive Catholic school girl in Michigan to her current status of a legend of the Broadway stage, during the 2½ hour with intermission performance. Ms. Stritch also sings songs that she originated in Broadway shows. This Tony winning show is word for word what we saw at the Neil Simon Theatre during the spring of 2002. The Broadway production was a smash hit limited to 80 performances only.
Stritch works on a bare stage with only a stool and a bottle of water. She comes out in an attractive white blouse worn over a pair of black tights. She looks like a walking contradiction, however; she is theatre in the flesh, its allurement and hard work, its misapprehensions and stabbing truths. There is a small adroit band in the pit to accompany her in her songs.
In a verbal race, Elaine Stritch relates her life - from Michigan to going to New York for her first acting jobs, her encounters in acting school with Marlon Brando, her Broadway debut, a romance with Gig Young followed by one with Ben Gazzara who wanted to marry her. Ms. Stritch tells how she threw Gazzara over for Rock Hudson during the filming of Farewell to Arms ("boy, was that a big mistake," she says). Her story of being Ethel Merman's understudy in Call Me Madam in New York and appearing in New Haven in Pal Joey at the same time is hilarious. The stories her first starring role in the flop Goldilocks are wonderful. She intersperses these sparking gems with Sondhiem's "Broadway Baby," Rodgers and Hart's great song "Zip," and a song that she introduced called "Civilization (Bongo, Bongo, Bongo)." She sings these in her tattered and scruffy voice. The second act ends with some great stories about her role in Noel Coward's Sail Away, and she gives the audience her great rendition of "Why Do The Wrong People Travel."
The second act does have more emotion about her problems with alcohol, her self destructiveness and the loneliness of life on the stage. Stritch says the reason she is still on the stage is "booze," because in each role she played she had glasses of her favorite drink, and the choice of drink varied with each play she appeared in. She no longer drinks. The funniest bits are the meticulous retelling of doing The Women with Gloria Swanson and Marge Champion in Warren, Ohio, and her tales of London adventures when she lived at the Savoy Hotel. At the time I met Ms. Stritch, we were staying at the Savoy for a week. She was the public relations director for the famed hotel and she she also had a hit television series going for her on the BBC. Ms. Stritch also talks about her audition for The Golden Girls and how she fouled that up with the writer. There are great stories of Hal Prince casting her in Company where she spent two and half glorious years (at the time she played San Francisco, her favorite drink was Courvoisier. Eddy and I were with her one night in her dressing room after the performance downing the good stuff. Ms Stritch always had her dressing room door open because she just could not stand being lonely). Of course, she had to sing "The Ladies Who Lunch," and there is absolutely no one else in this wide world who can sing that song like this great diva of the stage. It brought down the house. She still scrapes away any veneer of sentimentality in the song.
At the end, Ms. Stritch sees herself as "an existential problem in tights," and she concludes by saying she "wasn't always there" for her own life. However, this "confession" lets her go back and take responsibility for her acts. She says she wouldn't change one moment of her life; there have been setbacks along the way, but they guided her to a place where she receives love and acceptance from the people who mean the most to her.
Elaine Stritch at Liberty runs thru July 27 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary Street, San Francisco. Tickets can be obtained at the Curran Theatre Box Office, the Orpheum Theatre Box Office at 1192 Market at 8th, through Ticketmaster at 415-512-7770; at all Ticketmaster centers and ticketmaster.com. For groups of 15 or more, call Group Sales at 415-551-2020.
Phantom of the Opera at the Orpheum, which opened Sunday, is part of the Best of Broadway series. Also coming is Chicago at the Golden Gate and The Graduate at the Curran during August. 42nd Street will be playing at the Golden Gate in September.