Stritch actually did the show for friends (plus Michael Riedel and Stephen Holden) Jan. 5 before letting the gates down for the full tsunami of theatrical critics.
But a few friendly faces surfaced. Her longtime and improbable pal, conductor James Levine, made both evenings, and they huddled afterward for an intimate little note-giving-and-taking while fans queued up to glad-hand her. Marti Stevens, who played the Barbara Barrie role in the London company of Company with Stritch before taking over the Stritch part, was on the arm of her Connecticut neighbor, New York Observer reviewer Rex Reed.
The hour-long show included the seldom-heard "Love Is in the Air" (dropped from Forum), a recitation sans music of "Every Day a Little Death" from A Little Night Music and Follies' "The Road You Didn't Take."
That last song prompted a riff about the career she might have had if she had done Anyone Can Whistle on Broadway instead of a straight play in L.A. with Laurence Harvey — "well-named" Time of the Barracuda. Angela Lansbury did the Whistle role and stepped from that into an almost uninterrupted run of Tony-winning roles — including Mama Rose, the one that always eluded Stritch "until now!"
"Rose's Turn" was her second song in the show, and opening-night nerves produced some out-of-placed lyrics from her, but, as she shrugged sheepishly afterward, "the audience doesn't notice so much if you mess up some on that song because the lady already has so many problems."
Stritch sings Sondheim through Jan. 30.
— Harry Haun