As soon as the final chords were played at Elaine Stritch sings Sondheim at the Carlyle Cafe, I got up from my front row seat and made my way to the back of the bar. I had spent a month's salary to get to see Broadway legend Elaine Stritch sing my favorite composer's songs in New York City. That was not enough for me. I was bound and determined that I was going to meet her as well. As I stood with my program in hand, here she came. She smiled at me with that smile that only Elaine could give, then she whipped her head around to her assitant and yelled, "Where the hell is my pen, people. I can't sign without a pen." I held out my black marker and she signed her at that time 85 year old name to my poster. She never gave me my pen back. On Thursday, July 17th Elaine Stritch passed away. The world of show will never be the same again. If you don't know the name you will recgonzie the face, the voice or the pantless legs. You might know her from The Cosby Show, Law & Order or 30 Rock. I knew her as Joanne from Sondheim's Company. Her version of the Ladies Who Lunch will live on just like The Beatles's Twist and Shout or Billy Joel's Piano Man. Some things are imprinted in pop culture for ever.
Elaine's last year of life is documented in Elaine Strich: Shoot Me. I was lucky enough to interview the director of the movie Chiemi Karasawa for Episode 73 of The Red Room Podcast. That interview was later published in the magazine The Sondheim Review. Elaine pushed Chiemi into directing and shaped her life. Elaine indirectly helped me get published. She inspired people with her bravery of alcholism, diabeties and aging. She braved the stage in her final years not knowing if the words would come to her or not. Any performer will tell you that is an amazing act of bravery. Her life and stories are also documented in her one woman show, At Liberty. If you even have a passing interest in Broadway or old time Hollywood, I know you would love it. She pulls you in with a story teller's abilty that I will be jealous of for life.
There are really only a handful of performers that truly amaze me. Most people in this era of acting confus fame with talent. Elaine was someone who had more talent than fame. Her view on acting, the stage and what it means to be a "Star" has passed on. But her songs, her performances and her standard is captured on film. She will not be replaced. It reminds me of when we lost Johnny Carson. You just know a bridge to the past has been permantly closed. I shutter to think of what will replace it. But when it worries me, I will watch her performance at the end of the Sondheim Birthday Concert. After two and half hours of show stopping performances, a 86 year old woman stood up and sang I'm Still Here to close the show. It was the only standing ovation of the evening up to that point. She stood surrounded by today's leading broadway stars all at least a quarter of her age and she stopped the show once again. "I've run the gamut, A to Z, three cheers and dammit, C'est la Vie. I got through all of last year, and I'm here." She may be gone, but she will always be here. And I'll drink to that.
Press Play to Listen to my interview with Chiemi: