ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: "You Were Wonderful! The Show Stinks!" Remembering Elaine Stritch's Sassiest Moments

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21 Jul 2014

Barbara Walsh and Seth
Barbara Walsh and Seth
Photo by Robb Johnston

A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.


I'm doing a big, fat show Aug. 24 here in New York at the amazing new 42West on 42nd street. The show is called Not Since High School and it features Broadway folk singing songs from roles they played when they were way too young to play them. The last time I did it, Norbert Leo Butz sang Harold Hill, Mandy Gonzalez sang Maria Von Trapp, Susan Blackwell sang Anita (!) and Lisa Lampanelli sang Maria (!!). I just started booking this year's show and so far I have Julia Murney, Emily Skinner, Sierra Boggess and Christine Ebersole! The whole evening will help Juli's public school get some music programming. Schools are cutting the arts all over the place and now her school only has music after school! This money will help pay for teachers and instruments. The show is also hilarious! Watch the highlight reel from the last time I did it and get tix here.

The last week has been filled with people recounting their personal Elaine Stritch stories but, sadly, I never worked closely with her. I mainly have other people's interaction stories from my years doing my "Chatterbox." Here are my favorites: Barbara Walsh was playing Joanne in the revival of Company on Broadway. She met Elaine at a fancy Broadway luncheon and as soon as Elaine saw her, she said, "You're too young for the part." Barbara was confused because she was actually older than Elaine was when she played the role. Regardless, at the end of the lunch Elaine told her, "I'm gonna come see the show, but I won't tell you when because I don't want you to be nervous knowing I'm in the audience."

Cut to: Elaine showed up wearing a white suit with a white cap and sat in the fifth row. Basically, if a lighthouse could get a ticket to a Broadway show, then Elaine was that lighthouse. The nice part is that afterwards Barbara was backstage after the show and heard, "Where's Barbara? Where's Barbara?" in that signature growl. Elaine found her, held her face in her hands and told her how wonderful she was. Someone then asked for a photo of the two of them, and suddenly Barbara was confused because she didn't hear any joke being told. Why was she thinking a joke was told? Because right at the moment the picture was taken, Elaine threw her head back in laughter. That's right. Apparently, Elaine preferred to take all photos with her signature At Liberty head-thrown-back, mouth-agape pose. Brava for knowing what works! PS, here's Barbara doing "I'm Breaking Down" from her Tony-nominated performance in Falsettos (with Grey Gardens composer Scott Frankel at the piano!).

Pamela Myers, who played Marta and sang "Another Hundred People" in the original cast of Company told me that she and Elaine remained great friends since the '70's. One day, Elaine was visiting and saw a photo of Pam's son standing next to Pam's mom who was around 90 years old when the pic had been taken. Elaine glanced at it and said, "Your son looks great! But Pam... not your best photo." Speaking of Pam Myers, here's my deconstruction of "Another Hundred People!"

Known for her candor, here are two of my favorites Elaine "tell it like it is" comments. My friend Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf plays cello in lots of Broadway shows, the most recent being The Bridges of Madison County. She met Elaine during A Little Night Music and she recently posted this memory on her Facebook wall: "Over dinner once, Elaine was asking about the show I was playing at the time, which was in previews, but seemed likely to tank. Trying to lead with the positive, I told her everyone agreed the costumes were fantastic, to which she replied, 'The costumes? You're telling me about the costumes? Oh honey, if it's down to the costumes, you're screwed.'" Direct but honest! If you want to hear some of Mairi's beautiful playing, here she is in the small ensemble playing for the book trailer my sister wrote (and sings). So good (and creepy)! 


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