Elaine Stritch's acclaimed, sold-out autobiographical show At Liberty will end its extended Off-Broadway run at the Public Theater on Jan. 6 and begin preparing for the big leagues. At Liberty will leap from downtown to Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre, beginning Feb. 6. 2002.
The show was extended two times. It was once set to end Nov. 25 and first extended until Dec. 30. That extension was announced mere hours after the Public Theater's official opening on Nov. 7. (Previews began Oct. 26.)
Due to the strenuous nature of the performance, which includes songs musical-directed by Rob Bowman and orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, the 76-year-old Stritch (who turns 77 Feb. 2) will perform the show five times a week, 8 PM Wednesday Saturday and 5 PM Sunday. Official opening is Feb. 21. Tickets go on sale Dec. 11.
Only 80 performances are scheduled, but it's not hard to see that if Stritch wants it, if the business merits it and if the Tony Awards embrace her, the lady who introduced "The Ladies Who Lunch," will be lunching at the Simon well past the May end of the 2001-2002 season.
The Broadway run is produced by John Schreiber, Scott Sanders of Creative Battery, Margo Lion and Robert Cole, in association with Roy Furman and The Public Theater/NYSF. Designers are Riccardo Hernández (set), Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (lighting), Paul Tazewell (costume) and Acme Sound Partners (sound).
Tickets range $40-$85. The Neil Simon Theatre, current home of The Music Man, which ends Dec. 30, is at 250 W. 52nd Street. For information, (212) 307-4100.
Liberty is molded out of the raw material of Stritch's crowded life on and off the stage. The text was "constructed" by The New Yorker drama critic John Lahr and then "reconstructed" by Stritch. Lahr is the author of several book on the theatre, including “Prick Up Your Ears,” “Show and Tell,” “Notes on a Cowardly Lion” (about his father, actor and comedian Bert Lahr) and a biography of Noel Coward. He has also dabbled in the theatre, penning a stage adaptation of the film, “The Manchurian Candidate.” Lahr is a recipient of the George Jean Nathan Award for dramatic criticism.
Stritch's career is strewn with landmark performances, including her turns in Pal Joey, William Inge's Bus Stop, Noel Coward's Sail Away, and, of course, Stephen Sondheim's Company, in which her fame was sealed with a renowned delivery of "The Ladies Who Lunch." Since the Sondheim performance, Stritch has evolved into something of a living legend, regularly profiled, parodied by Forbidden Broadway and generally celebrated for just being herself.
In the piece, Stritch (dressed in billowy white shirt and black tights) discusses the above credits (no doubt with salty humor and a sandpaper voice), as well as lesser known and more bitter aspects of her life, including the 15 years she spent living in England following her performance in Company; her job covering Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam while simultaneously delivering an eleven o'clock number in Pal Joey; her early days in New York studying with Erwin Piscator and dating Marlon Brando; her aborted engagements to film actors Gig Young (“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”) and Ben Gazzara; a disastrous regional production of The Women; her late-in-late marriage to actor John Bay; and her decades-long relationship to alcohol.
During the show, she sing nearly every famous song with which she is associated, including "The Ladies Who Lunch," "The Little Things You Do Together," "Why Do the Wrong People Travel?," "Zip," "Broadway Baby," and "Civilization," a comic number ("Bongo, Bongo, Bongo, I don't want to leave the Congo") she sung in a Broadway revue, one of her first stage shows.