Friday, July 18, 2014

Elaine Stritch (1925-2014)

We'll hear Elaine singing "The Ladies Who Lunch" when Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company was new, but I thought it would be nice to hear and see again this September 1998 performance, which we first looked at in December 2010. (It's from the Carnegie Hall cavalcade-of-stars concert My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies.)

by Ken

I know it seems like an odd thing to say, but in remembering Elaine Stritch on DownWithTyranny earlier today (when I promised some musical remembrances in a later post -- this one), I wrote with singular lack of grace:
It was quite a career, Elaine Stritch's. . . . Still, one thing you can say about the career is that, given the epic scale of her abilities, it's a shame more producers, directors, and writers didn't find (well, create) more vehicles that took full advantage of what this "force of nature" could do.
By way of example, though, let's take Company (1970). The creator of the music, Stephen Sondheim (doing both words and music himself for the first time, remember), and the book, George Furth, have made it clear that the role of the super-cynical Joanne was written with Elaine in mind, and she was brilliant, as everyone knows.

STEPHEN SONDHEIM: Company (1970)

"The Little Things You Do Together

"The Ladies Who Lunch"

Elaine Stritch (Joanne) and (in "The Little Things You Do Together") company; Original Broadway Cast recording, Harold Hastings, musical director. Columbia-CBS-Sony, recorded May 3, 1970

Still, except for the central role of Bobby, around him all the other relationships revolve, Company is a genuine ensemble show, and while Elaine's performance was probably the one most attendees had in their heads as they left the theater, it was hardly a large role.

That said, Joanne was a great role for Elaine, and in the end even the most compelling performer has to work with the material he/she has to work with. Elaine had been at the center of things in 1961 in Sail Away, the last "book" musical for which Noël Coward wrote both music and lyrics. Everyone who saw the show loved her and remembered her performance, but the show itself wasn't exactly memorable. A lot of the score is still worth listening to, though. Here's Elaine as Mimi Paragon, the hard-boiled, divorced cruise hostess.

NOËL COWARD: Sail Away (1961)

As I wrote when we first heard these excerpts in December 2010: Sorry about the LP surface noise [from my very own copy, bought when the thing was released 52-plus years ago -- Ed.] early on in the "Why Do the Wrong People Travel?" track. I came close to paying the 99 cents to download this great song, but the noise cleared up, and as I like to say, 99 cents saved here and there adds up to 99 cents saved here and there.]

"Come to Me" (opening number, the Stewards and Mimi)

"You're a Long, Long Way from America" (Act I finale, Mimi and company)

"Why Do the Wrong People Travel (When the Right People Stay Back Home)?"

Elaine Stritch (Mimi Paragon) and company, Original Broadway Cast recording, Peter Matz, arr. and musical director. Capitol-EMI, recorded October 1961


At 8:01 Elaine talks about Sail Away, Noël Coward, and her mother. At 10:27 her attention is turned to Company.


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