Half of the show at Elaine Stritch's farewell stand at the Cafe Carlyle was in the audience.
A couple feet from the stage sat Bernadette Peters. Across from her was Tony Bennett. Next to Tony was Liza Minnelli, and next to her was Michael Feinstein. Near the door was James Levine of the Met. And in the far corner was Tom Hanks, his wife Rita Wilson, and Martin Short. Even for the most jaded New Yorker, it was a starry room.
The 88-year-old Stritch was aware of the wattage in the room. With her usual mix of salty cynicism and teary sentimentality she called the opening night of her one-week stay — titled Elaine Stritch at the Carlyle: Movin' Over and Out running April 2-6 — "the most frightening night of my life. There are stronger men than me in the audience."
Hanks, whose show, Lucky Guy, had opened the night before, was of particular fascination to Stritch. "You have no right to be that talented," she said. She continued to vamp on Hanks for another ten minutes, praising his performance in "Sleepless in Seattle" and congratulating him on his Broadway debut, leaving Hanks no choice but to shout out "I love you!" from his banquette. When she said she had some advice for the movie star, he yelled, "I've got my pen! I'm ready!"
|photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
"This is an evening with Tom Hanks," Stritch joked after a while. "When is your opening?"
"Well, it was last night," called back the film star, "but it pales in comparison to tonight!"
The actress and icon referred to her goodbye act as "just saying hello. I've been getting on stage and saying hello all my life." Following her performances at the Carlyle, where she has performed off and on since 2005, she will retire and move back to her native Michigan. "I'm going to be taking it easy," she said, "because every time I leave the building lately, I fall on my ass!"
As a piece of cabaret, the evening was more talk than song, though her longtime musical director Rob Bowman sat at the ready at the piano the whole while. Stritch sang a total of three numbers, each lasting about a minute: the World War I-era ditty "How You Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm"; a bit of a Cole Porter paternity-suit parody of "You're the Top" called "You're the Pop" ("My mistake was in getting plastered/What a break for the little bastard"); and Rodgers and Hart's "He Was Too Good to Me."
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