Charles Cermele Candidly Remembers Working with Elaine Stritch on At Home At The Carlyle

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24 Jul 2014

Charles Cermele
Charles Cermele

Charles Cermele, who, as producer of Contemporary Programming at Lincoln Center, has been responsible for Lincoln Center's American Songbook series for several years, recalls working with Tony and Emmy winner Elaine Stritch, who passed away earlier this month.

Cermele helped Ms. Stritch create Elaine Stritch At Home At The Carlyle, which premiered in March 2005 as part of the American Songbook series before playing a lengthy run at The Carlyle. The piece was a follow-up to Ms. Stritch's Tony-winning Elaine Stritch at Liberty. Cermele's account of his experience with the singing actress follows:

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Next week will be my 10th Elaine-iversary – ten years since Elaine Stritch and I met and worked together (too) closely for six months.

I had just started a new job at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts — my Act II, practically a new career.



I noticed Elaine at a Lincoln Center gala and wondered aloud why we shouldn't ask her to create an act to follow up At Liberty (she had just returned from its tour). My boss challenged me to go and ask her. So, I did. “I like the way you think, Charles. Give me a call tomorrow at The Carlyle after 2:30 PM."

It began as it has for others. We had a pinch-myself meeting in the hotel lobby, where she flirted with me shamelessly. Then the phone calls began. Elaine had no representation. She had sent everyone packing, leaving me to negotiate the contract directly with Herself. The calls came at all hours (except regular business ones). “Chaaarles, it’s Elaine.” She wrapped her growl around the vowel of my name, strangling it. The calls were at first exciting, then less so – but always worthy of my time and respect. Even uber-agent Sam Cohn (whom I didn’t know) called to check on me, apologizing for being fired and leaving me to handle everything. Ha!

I didn’t know when we began that Elaine hadn’t done a solo cabaret act in a long time, if ever. At Liberty had a producer, writer and director. She was on her own with this one but thankfully/spectacularly supported by her music director, Rob Bowman. Show day arrived and Elaine was scared... Screaming scared. Rob kept her together through sound check, but when she was alone with hair and makeup, she burned off our eyebrows with her rage. We gave Elaine everything she requested, but it didn’t matter. She was frightened to death – and then went out and slayed the people. Here’s the American Songbook review from that night.

Elaine and I met as we began new chapters in our lives. She was At Home At The Carlyle, singing for her supper and her room “just above the deli” starting a string of nightclub acts that would go down in history. I was a newly minted producer, and my fearlessness in approaching her at that gala proved to myself that I’d be okay in my new job.

I thank Elaine Stritch for one of the worst days, and six of the most exciting months, of my life. Afterwards, I would always go backstage after seeing her in a show. Often she would be alone. I was one of the few brave enough to stop back – especially after she’d eviscerated a lyric in yet another Sondheim birthday celebration. Who would I find: the lady or the tiger? It didn’t matter. I’d seen her at her worst and applauded her at her best. And, I’m damn lucky I did.