About two-thirds into Elaine Stritch's hilarious, anecdote-heavy Sondheim tribute concert ELAINE STRITCH: SINGIN' SONDHEIM...ONE SONG AT A TIME at Los Angeles' Walt Disney Concert Hall on May 19, this treasured dame of the Broadway stage barked out a stern warning about the big—though fabulously mesmerizing—elephant in the room: "If there is any critic out there that says I kept forgetting things all night, I'm going to kill them!"
Well, I beg your pardon, Ms. Stritch, but as one of these said critics in attendance, I for one have no problem admitting—at the risk of ending my life—that I adored every missed lyric, every forgotten transition, and every single off-book tangent you took us to in this concert. Frankly, all that forgetfulness made the entire show all the more endearing and special.
Luckily, for the still-spunky 87-year-old Tony and Emmy Award winner, her musical director and principal accompanist Rob Bowman was ever alert and at the ready just a stone's throw behind her. All evening, he fed her lyrics she missed, slowed down—then started back up—the terrific ad-hoc band, and tossed out gentle reminders that guided her back onto her own memory lane.
It was a back-and-forth exchange that felt natural yet completely spontaneous, which, funny enough, with the unpredictable Ms. Stritch is quite a treat for those able to watch this enjoyable one-night-only concert. It helps, too, to know that Stephen Sondheim himself gave his blessing for her to do this—even suggesting that because he won't be in attendance, that she "can ad-lib" as much as she wanted. Done and done.
Understandably, the rapt audience was no doubt hungry for such a rare left-coast appearance by Ms. Stritch. The last time she performed live in town, if I can correctly recall, was back during the sold-out L.A. transfer of her superb Tony-winning one-woman-show Elaine Stritch at Liberty at the Ahmanson Theatre, directly across the street from the concert hall—which, in a bit of kismet, is currently playing host to the direct L.A. transfer of Sondheim's incredible Broadway revival of FOLLIES.
Met with well-deserved, boisterous standing ovations both at the start and at the end of the intermission-less program, Stritch was in usual top form, dispensing out acerbic comments and witty barbs about her life, her career, and her love and admiration—both personally and professionally—for Sondheim.
"He scares me to death," she declared, perhaps slightly exaggerating. "But I'm not complaining. I'm just bragging!"
Dressed in her signature lily-white shirt and black stockings combo (as seen in her publicity photo, next page), Ms. Stritch traversed through the Sondheim Songbook with a fascinating real-life anecdote for each song—and taking several droll forks along the way.
Combining Stritch and Sondheim, of course, isn't such a shocking marriage of creative endeavors coming together. After all, to this day Stritch's iconic original rendition of "The Ladies Who Lunch" from Sondheim's COMPANY—which she performed brilliantly this evening, naturally—is the stuff of musical theater legends (and many a parody or two). And more recently, Stritch made a welcome return to Broadway opposite Bernadette Peters in the celebrated revival of the composer's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, which, as it turns out, was the first Sondheim musical she ever saw on Broadway with her husband way back during its original run.
Her roster of Sondheim selections leaned more toward joyful ditties than to the serious ones, borne out of her admiration for the composer's innate sense of humor. She started the program with "I Feel Pretty" (from WEST SIDE STORY) because, in her own words, just "screams me," she deadpanned. She also gamely took on "Rose's Turn" from GYPSY—twice!
"I couldn't go home..." she protested, demanding that the band start over, "unless I got these lyrics down!" She repeated this call for do-overs a few times on several songs during the night—and by golly, are we the better for it!
What else made the whole audience smile and bust out in laughter? Aside from Ms. Stritch's profanity-laced, stream-of-consciousness tangents, her darling reminiscences of her husband, and her amusing struggle with a very heavy bar stool, it was also her palpable who-the-eff-cares attitude—reminding all in attendance of her legendary status and why we all should, damn it, wait for her to finish. These cute non-scripted flubs allowed for an open-ended, free-flowing concert atmosphere that felt like it was all done somewhat on the fly (I'm going to make an educated guess and say that the concert's running time probably went longer than they had anticipated).