At Home at the Carlyle: Elaine Stritch Singing Sondheim Again … Why Not!

Musical direction by Rob Bowman
Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick
Cafe Carlyle at the Carlyle, 35 East 76th Street

September 13, 2011 — October 8, 2011

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
September 22, 2011

Accompanied by string bass, drums, saxophone, trumpet, and of course Bowman’s piano, Stritch enchants and instructs.  Sondheim rules this evening.  “I Feel Pretty”, “Rose’ Turn” (see Stritch put her hand to her mouth at the “Mama’s gotta let go” moment), “Send in the Clowns” as a comic adventure complete with a contextual story from 1973.  An instructional “Everybody Says Don’t” that might change how you view the rest of your life.  An enchanting “Love is in the Air”, and other tunes.  Stories include her learning that great jazz musician Lester Young memorized the lyrics to tunes he played (“the lyrics are just as important as the music” — “he knew what he was playing about”), used to set up a stunning recitative delivery of “Every Day a Little Death”.  (Note to Ms. Stritch, not that she asked me: you can do this kind of song storytelling from now until the cows come home.  You are a master.)

Strich contributes to the Great American Songbook’s legacy in her set list.  In Elaine Stritch at Liberty she reminded the public at large in her final tune of the evening of the magnificent ballad written for the movie version of The Sound of Music “Something Good” (a very adult, gently comic, and deeply moving grown up love song).  In the current set list, she rounds out her evening with my favorite tune from Sondheim’s Bounce which has morphed into Road Show and has yet to hit Broadway: “The Best Thing That Ever Happened”.  Solemn and celebratory and wondrous.

On June 17, 1998, Elaine Stritch contributed comments and a song to the second of two evenings at Carnegie Hall celebrating Judy Garland‘s triumphant April and May 1961 concerts in that venue and, as Elaine said this particular evening, “the whole damn career”.  The following comes from my own transcription of her remarks.  I was in attendance during both nights of these 1998 tributes.  And these words from Stritch about Garland tell us something about Stritch herself.

“What a talent we’re celebrating here tonight.  Preparing to talk about Judy Garland is just silly.  Because, it just is….   Everything that she did was so … real .. that there was almost no such thing as a text in her life.  It was off the top of her head, the whole damn career.  I’ll tell you what I used to do.  Still do.  I used to watch a Judy Garland movie before an opening night.  It’s not that you’d think it’s rather strange to listen to “The Trolley Song” to do Edward Albee.  What it does for me is this.  It tells me not to tell a lie for the rest of the evening.  Tell the truth when you go out there.  That’s what Judy Garland taught me.  And I’m not belittling myself.  I probably have a reality in me myself.  But I’ll tell ya something.  To see it up there.  To see her reach over to an audience with the absolute one hundred percent truth was something else.”

Tributes.  Legacies.  Truth.  Garland instructed, Stritch carries on, and we are all the better for it.  Thank you both.  Thank you both.

© Martha Wade Steketee (September 27, 2011)


  1. Love your blog Martha…In concur about Elaine. I saw her in London a number of years ago doing her one woman show and waited to speak to her after because I had been at the 1998 Carnegie Hall concert when she paid tribute to Judy Garland. She said to me that she could be a whole evening talking about Judy and her time with her. She had so much love and respect for Judy.

  2. I was also at both nights of the ’98 Carnegie Hall tribute. Loved Elaine’s story about being at a party and meeting Judy for the first time…when she was finally afforded the opportunity, Judy was in the elevator, leaving, and as the doors were about to close said to her “You have f***ing perfect timing!” (the quote may not be exact but that was the gist)….

  3. S. Carr … I feel like we should know each other! (DO we know each other? :) ) I actually have audio of Elaine’s comments from the June 1998 evening. I could listen to her forever! The story she tells involving the elevator and Judy and timing concerns a fancy party of the opening night of Noel Coward’s “Sail Away” in London. Here goes … [have I said I have a crush on this woman? golly]

    “Judy was a great friend of Noel Coward’s and so was I and when I did SAIL AWAY in London .. all the swells were there on opening night. God knows, you know, a Noel Coward opening you got to meet every celebrity in the world. And Judy was there. And you can imagine the state I was in, feeling the way I do about her. And I didn’t know her at all then. Noel gave a great big party at the Savoy Hotel. And I was behaving myself and all these swells that Noel knew were not. It was a pretty good party. And Judy Garland — everybody was very complimentary to me, and it was all swell. I saw Judy go to the door, she was going to go home. And she hadn’t said a word to me. Oh my god! So, I followed her out into the hall, behind her, of the Savoy Hotel — when they had those elevators, you know, that you see through, those old fashioned things that to all the way down. And I just stood at the door of Noel Coward’s suite, and I put my arms out like this, like “Jesus!”. And the elevator started to go down. And just as it left the floor she said: “About your fucking timing –” It was honest to God the greatest compliment I have ever had in my whole life.”

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