PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, July 12-18: Broadway Remembers Stage Legend Elaine Stritch

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18 Jul 2014

Elaine Stritch
Elaine Stritch
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The American stage has its icons, its legendary performers, its stars. But only a few actors transcend those categories to become something of a living symbol or personification of the theatre.

Elaine Stritch, who died July 17 at the age of 89, was one of those figures. She didn't have the most awards, didn't have the longest list of credits and wasn't the most versatile performer the boards had ever seen. But she was a theatre creature through and through. An unforgettable character both on stage and off, she scrambled and tap-danced her way through a seven-decade career, almost skidding off the rails several times. But she never got boring and, in the final accounting, was as famous for her candid, brash personality as for her forays in the stage and cabaret worlds.

Stritch came to fame on the Broadway stage when women were still called dames and everyone imbibed socially. She was comfortable with both the moniker and the habit. On stage, she could be counted on for solid performances, but also a knowing, biting sarcasm, a wicked sense of comic timing and a certain swagger. Off stage, she was known for giving any man a run for his money, whether at drinking, swearing, or speaking her mind.

She created roles in famous shows by William Inge (Bus Stop), Rodgers and Hart (Pal Joey), Noel Coward (Sail Away) and Stephen Sondheim (Company). But she was arguably best known for the role that finally won her a Tony — herself — in the one-woman confessional show Elaine Stritch At Liberty, a late-career smash Off-Broadway and on.

She would play that role to a "t" the rest of her life, generating reams of good copy for journalists and serving as a kind of industry reminder what a life in the theatre meant, for better and worse. This was the case even after 2013, when Stritch decided to hang it up move back to Michigan to be near her family. She gave a series of farewell appearances at the Cafe Carlyle. Despite this seeming exit from the limelight, the press continued to cover her every move, and she apparently relished the attention. She may have been one of the last stage creatures worth interviewing, even in retirement.


Following its November-December 2014 world premiere in Paris, the new musical An American in Paris will move to Broadway, beginning previews at Broadway's Palace Theatre March 13, 2015.


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