Monday, June 21, 2010

Elaine Stritch at Hartford Stage.

Elaine Stritch Singing Sondheim One Song
-- and Sometimes One Lyric -- at a time
By Lauren Yarger
Hartford Stage kicked off its summer “Broadway Legends” Series last weekend with Elaine Stritch “Singin’ Sondheim One Song at a Time.”

Sometimes it was more like one forgotten thought, or one forgotten lyric at a time, however, in strangely unsettling, yet satisfying concert.

Stritch, a legendary interpreter of the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, still has great insight, depth and trademark humor when discussing or singing the lyrics to songs like “I Feel Pretty,” “The Ladies Who Lunch” “Love is Going Around” and ”Broadway Baby” among other classics included in the concert. She just doesn’t always remember where she is in the song she's singing or the story she is telling. It’s sad, but made less uncomfortable by the fact that Stritch knows that the lapses are happening and pokes fun at them throughout the concert.

She relies on her Music Director Rob Bowman on piano to feed her lyrics or to give her clues about what she’s supposed to do next. Bowman gets huge kudos for seeming to know when to prompt and when to be quiet while conducting the rest of the five-member band who perform flawlessly, despite probably having no idea which songs -- or which parts of songs -- Stritch will be performing from minute to minute.

The rambling, forgetful commentary seemed almost endearing at first, especially since Stritch is looking fabulous at 85, and told us she’d been in rehearsal that afternoon (Saturday) with director Trevor Nunn for her upcoming role as Madame Armfeldt in the Broadway revival of A Little Night Music. She kidded that she’d probably scared him off from remaining for the Hartford Stage performance. It might be good that he missed it, though. The continued forgotten lyrics might have given him cause for concern, even though Madame Armfeldt sings only one solo in the show.

Stritch movingly performed A Little Night Music's “Send in the Clowns” during the concert, but her stumbling around for the words gave sad new meaning to its lyrics "sure of my lines” and “losing my timing this late in my career.” She also spoke the lyrics from the show’s “Every Day a Little Death.” It was moving, and so insightful, but frustrating as those of us who know the lyrics struggled not to whisper them to her while she waited for them to come.

Even tinged with its sadness, the evening was more than worth it, and resulted in two standing ovations with calls for encores. Let’s face it. Elaine Stritch in concert is Elaine Stritch in concert. Not much tops that – especially when she shows you what she could have done with the role of Rose in Gypsy. It’s worth the wait.

The Broadway Legends series continues with Chita Rivera and Ben Vereen.
Chita Rivera: My Broadway, runs June 22-27, and features the two-time Tony Award winner performing songs from her legendary Broadway career. Rivera will perform selections from her most celebrated musicals, including numbers from West Side Story (“America”), Sweet Charity (“Where Am I Going?” and “Big Spender”), Chicago (“All That Jazz” and “Nowadays”), Kiss of the Spider Woman, Bye Bye Birdie, and The Rink.
The series wraps with An Evening with Ben Vereen July 6-11, a unique blend of artistry combining a tribute to Broadway, Frank Sinatra, and a very special homage to Sammy Davis, Jr., An Evening With Ben Vereen is a contemporary and timeless journey through the Broadway songbook featuring such hit songs as “Defying Gravity,” “Being Alive,” “Something's Coming,” and “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries.”

The Broadway Legends series is presented at Kingswood Oxford in West Hartford while Hartford Stage undergoes renovation. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm and 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and some Wednesdays at 2 pm. Call the box office at 860-527-5151 or visit http://www.hartfordstage.org/.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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