PLAYBILL PLAYLIST: Hunter Ryan Herdlicka and Cast of 54 Sings Elaine Stritch Pick Favorite Stritch Performances

Playlist   PLAYBILL PLAYLIST: Hunter Ryan Herdlicka and Cast of 54 Sings Elaine Stritch Pick Favorite Stritch Performances
54 Sings Elaine Stritch, a tribute to late Tony Award-winning theatre icon Elaine Stritch, will be held Sept. 12 at 54 Below. In anticipation of the evening, members of the cast and creative team share their favorite Stritch performances as part of this week's Playbill Playlist.
Hunter Ryan Herdlicka
Hunter Ryan Herdlicka

Eric Ulloa will direct the evening with musical direction by John McDaniel. Show time is 9:30 PM; doors will open at 8:45 PM.

Performers include Tony winner Christine Ebersole, Tony winner Beth Leavel, Jeremy Benton, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, Lindsie VanWinkle, Tony winner Harriet Harris, Edward Hibbert, Sara Jean Ford, Paul Iacono and Shawna Hamic.

Ben Rimalower will host the evening, which is co-produced by Ulloa and Noah Aberlin.

The evening is described as "an all-star Broadway cast singing the songs that made Stritch famous and telling the stories that made her infamous. So, come join us for an evening of great music, memories, food and of course cocktails."

54 Below is located at 254 W. 54th Street. For more information and tickets, visit

Hunter Ryan Herdlicka: I almost can't imagine picking one single performance of Elaine's that would be my favorite or most memorable. She owns quite a few of my favorite interpretations of songs — "Send in the Clowns," "Fifty Percent," "Something Good" — I really could go on forever. As James Levine always said to me, "There isn't a single performer I've ever seen that can interpret a song like Elaine Stritch," and I know George C. Wolfe would second him on that.

Harriet Harris: I had heard of Stritch before I ever heard Stritch. Having been led to anticipate a dry-as-toast, edgy and visceral delivery, I was not disappointed. But, my favorite Stritch performance, while still sophisticated, is the mysterious, rueful and surprisingly sweet, "I Never Know When (To Say When)" from Goldilocks by [Leroy] Anderson, [Jean and Walter] Kerr and [Joan] Ford. It's sexy as can be and suggests a woman on the move, still becoming whatever she will be.

Listen to Stritch sing "Who's Been Sitting In My Chair?" from Goldilocks:

Eric Ulloa: What made me fall in love with Elaine Stritch as a performer is that she is what we all strive to be — a master storyteller. Not only does she still sell "Zip" as damn good as ever, but she also manages to weave her story so masterfully, that the viewer is literally as exhausted as she is by the end because you've ridden the experience WITH her.

Shawna Hamic: My favorite Elaine Stritch moment I ever witnessed was via that awesome treasure trove YouTube. Yes, like most, I can get lost in a never-ending spiral of adorable cat videos, but one day I was searching for material and came across a clip of Elaine performing a song. I never got to witness her perform live, you see. (It's a fact I'm sad about to this day.) The moment of her's that has stuck with me the most was from Elaine Stritch At Liberty. It was the story of covering Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam on Broadway while playing a role in Pal Joey at the same time, which was playing a week out of town in New Haven. Watching her tell the story and sell the song ["Zip"] is a master class of timing and showmanship. It may be close to 12 minutes long, but it is worth every second of your time.

Edward Hibbert: It's almost impossible to single out her most memorable performance that I was privileged enough to experience — there's an embarrassment of riches — but the first time I ever saw her on stage was in London in Neil Simon's The Gingerbread Lady. It remains one of the greatest performances I've seen — fierce, heartbreaking and, naturally, peerlessly funny. There's a rare archival interview of Elaine on the Dick Cavett show in which she sang the definitive version of "Anyone Can Whistle." Sadly, it's not available on YouTube but if anyone can locate it, it's a master class.

And last, but certainly not least, her renditions of "I'm Still Here" and her anthem, "The Ladies Who Lunch," neither of which I ever grow tired of hearing or seeing… Am I the only person who plays them both on my iPod while working out at my gym? I reside in the West Village so… probably not.

John McDaniel: In 1991, I music directed a Los Angeles production of Pal Joey, starring Dixie Carter and Elaine Stritch. It was my first time working with Elaine, with whom I would develop a lasting, loving and working relationship. At the final performance, in the closing, ride-out moments of her signature song, "Zip," Elaine looked straight down at me in the pit, yelling, "Take me home, John!!" Truly unforgettable.

Ben Rimalower: If you put a gun to my head and force me to choose just one favorite Elaine Stritch performance, it's the opening number of Elaine Stritch At Liberty, "There's No Business Like Show Business," interspersed with pithy commentary and short anecdotes. The spoken bits are so witty in their irony and dry authority, they fuel the effortless confidence with which she (barely singing at all) gets her show off to a thrilling start. It's more than thrilling, actually; it immediately establishes everything "At Liberty" is about, with elegance and style. And her vaudevillian ad-libbed ending is the epitome of show business glory.

Jeremy Benton: As I was racking my brain, I kept coming up with a dual answer, so I apologize for the double response.

A) Stritch's performance of 'It's Today" on "Royal Variety" in 1979: As a dancer, I think she is electric is this number! Eating the stage alive with enormous energy, while simultaneously tossing off the effort as if this is simply how she gets out of bed every morning. She even saves a rather anti-climactic kick line from certain death and knocks the musical button out of the park.

B) Seth Rudetsky deconstructing Elaine Stritch: I love hearing Seth talk about her with such loving and sassy admiration. My favorite is section is 8:22-10:13 in the clip. It's a flawless tribute!

Sara Jean Ford: My fave Elaine Stritch moment? Well, I only knew her for a short time, and in that time I realized very quickly that everyday of rehearsal was a performance. I can't say that I have a favorite one though. I did used to love her death scene in Night Music every night. She died in a new way every night — never committed to one way. She had a handful of playing cards at the time, and they would either fall neatly in front of her or scatter across the floor.

As for my favorite moment, I have many. Elaine was kind to me. Kind in a way that not many people are in this business. I come from a family where the women are strong and sarcastic, so her and I got along well from the start. Someone had suggested that the huge white shirt and black tights we wore at the top of the second act (sans skirt) looked like an "Elaine look," and I ran downstairs to show her, singing, "Rise! Rise! Rise!" She loved it.

When she heard I was making my leading lady debut as Christine Daaé in the Broadway company of Phantom, she demanded I come to her dressing room at once. I had no clue why. She only wanted to make sure that I was getting the most out of my experience in going into the show. She ordered me to contact Hal and to "stroke his ego… he'll like that, and tell him I told you to do it," and she insisted that I was to have a big party and invite the press. I'm not usually a very showy person, so this idea hadn't occurred to me. But I did it, and it ended up being a great experience. And, I still have a lovely relationship with Hal. When all was said and done, she came to see me in Phantom, having not seen it since the original Broadway company. I was honored and amused to hear that familiar voice ring out after I sang my 11-o'clock number, "BRAVA!"

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