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Elaine Stritch At Liberty

July 1, 1993

The husky voice and outrageous humor identify Elaine Stritch. Her one-woman show, Elaine Stritch At Liberty won the 2002 Tony Award for a Special Theatrical Event, going on to play at the Old Vic in London to sold-out houses. Now touring, she played at the Shubert in Chicago for only six performances.

Reinforcing her image of one who grabs the limelight, she appeared on stage in black tights and a thigh-high white silk shirt—pretty gutsy for a senior citizen. Her fans of many years gave her a rousing welcome. She did not disappoint. Her story began in Detroit with a strict Catholic upbringing, but early on, a love of the theatrical presaged a career on stage. Sadly, her love of liquor also began then.

Expectations of an evening filled with satirical humor left some disappointed. The tragedies in her life, poor choices in relationships, the need for alcohol, and conflicts with co-workers became overwhelming. Not until late in her career did she recognize her own culpability. Each major event seemed related to a specific drink—vodka, wine, brandy—and as with all alcoholics, she became a genius at concealing her need.

Her successes remain. From standing by for Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as the conflicted Martha, she grew as an actress and musical comedy star. Best remembered for Stephen Sondheim’s Company and the bittersweet song, “The Ladies Who Lunch,” she incorporated much of her music in the current show. The songs became the glue that held it all together. “I’m Still Here” and “The Party’s Over” are so representative of Stritch’s determination to survive.

The show runs for more than two and a half hours, with a jazz trio that enhances and supports well. A little vague about her true age, she performs commendably, detailing a lifelong career filled with joy and some regrets. The moments when she went to the rear of the stage to bend her knees and stretch a bit makes those of us in her age bracket realize in spite of creaky joints, there is much in life to enjoy…we’re still here.

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