“I don’t think I’m gonna die tomorrow or even two weeks from now, or even ever. I just don’t know — who the hell knows what’s gonna happen to them? Nobody! Isn’t that comforting? Nobody has a clue. I like that we don’t know. And I like that it’s somebody else’s decision, not mine.” Elaine Stritch.
I like Broadway. I will not go so far as to say I am a Broadway expert, but I do have a fondness for “The Great White Way.” (It’s Broadway — this post is going to be even more filled with cliches than normal.)
Like any aficionado, there are performances — and productions — I wish I could have seen. These include:
Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle in the original run of My Fair Lady.
Raul Esparza in the revival of Company. (I saw that during the short period that it was streaming on NetFlix. I wish I could have seen it live. Having seen Esparza in Company was the sole reason I started watching Law and Order:SVU again after a hiatus of years, simply because he came on board as an ADA. That, and the man does look sexy as all hell in a suit.)
Jerry Orbach in the original run of Chicago.
Hal Prince’s original production of Cabaret.
Jerome Robbins’ choreography for West Side Story. I still have some hope of that: the musical gets revived every few years.
Another I still have a (very, given how rarely I get to New York and what Broadway tickets cost) slight hope of seeing: Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters in Sunday in the Park with George.
Alfred Drake in the original run of Kiss Me Kate.
The original cast of Rent.
And, perhaps most significantly, Elaine Stritch as Joanne in the original run of Company. Other actresses have taken on the role — most notably Patti Lupone — but Stritch was the first, and the best.
Joanne is a wonderful character: cynical and wise, acerbic and pained.** Her tour de force, “Ladies Who Lunch,” throws all of it in our faces, starting with the sharp-tongued assessment of the haut monde by an insider who maybe really isn’t, ending with cutting self-rejection and inwardly directed rage.**
Elaine Stritch, by various accounts, adopted it as her theme song. While on one level I can understand her doing so, since it was a phenomenal song that she performed phenomenally well, on the other hand it seems an odd choice. Much better is the song later chose to represent her, and which she performed with wry gusto in Sondheim’s 85th birthday concert, “I’m Still Here.”
Elaine Stritch was a character. She was an unabashed party-girl (who lived to 89), and would open her one-woman show by commenting to the audience, “Well, as the prostitute once said, ‘It’s not the work, it’s the stairs.’ ” She once said, upon entering a party, “Just give me a bottle of vodka and a floor plan.” She was honest to a fault: in her Emmy thank you speech in 2004, she said of one of her producers, after thanking him, “I don’t like him very much, but he got the money…” She was profane at times, with the ability and willingness to swear like a whiskey-throated sailor. (See above Emmy speech.)
If she hadn’t existed, someone would have had to write her.
She died yesterday at age 89. The world was a much more interesting place for her having graced it with her humor and wit.
Goodbye, Broadway Baby. You’re not here anymore, and we were lucky to have you for as long as we did.
*Is it me, or does Sondheim write much more compelling female characters than male?
**”Ladies who Lunch” is not my favorite Joanne song: that would be “The Little Things You Do Together.”