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)