Elaine Stritch's autobiographical Off-Broadway show At Liberty has extended a second time, for five extra performances through Jan. 6, 2002. The show, once set to end on Nov. 25, 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.)
The show is an extremely popular one. A recent sign posted on the window of the Public box office reads "There are no tickets available for any Elaine Stritch performance." Still, hopefuls line up for unclaimed ducats at every show.
As for the much talked-about Broadway transfer, prospects look good, but details are sketchy. It appears the run would also feature a five performance week (designed to preserve Stritch's energy), and be limited to 14 weeks. No dates or theatre have been announced. An intimate house would seem ideal, but Broadway's two smallest theatres are apparently out of the question. The Booth has been claimed by Bea Arthur's one-person show, and the Helen Hayes does not have an orchestra pit to service Stritch's eight-person band.
The New York Times reports Nov. 9 that producers John Schreiber and Margo Lion are considering the transfer of the show to Broadway or London, with Schreiber replying that any decision would rest with the show's star.
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 sings 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.
The show has scenic design by Riccardo Hernández, lighting design by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, costume design by Paul Tazewell, sound design by Acme Sound Partners, orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick and musical direction by Rob Bowman.