Elaine Stritch, 89: Five noteworthy performances

Elaine Stritch, 89: Five noteworthy performances

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Elaine Stritch, the theatrical force of nature who died on Thursday at 89, was a foul-mouthed New York legend who seemed to deliver her best performances when she was playing thinly veiled versions of her irascible self.

Sometimes on stage, she actually was herself, as in her career-topping swan song "Elaine Stritch at Liberty," a Tony Award-winning solo show in which she dissected with brutal honesty her stage career, personal life and decades-long struggle with the bottle. 

Though some theatrical actors disappear into roles, Stritch was usually Stritch, especially in her later years, when her ample biographical baggage was often deployed as subtext for her characters.

Her outsized personality was the stuff of countless cocktail conversations among New York's theater set, which never seemed to tire of Stritch anecdotes, whether delivered by the actress herself or her many costars.

In a bumpy career that almost came to an end in the late 1980s because of her out-of-control drinking, Stritch became an emblem of I'm-still-here showbiz survivalism, thanks in part to a combination of age and hard-won sobriety. Here are five notable performances from an eclectic career:

"Company": As the vodka-stinger-besotted Joanne in Stephen Sondheim's musical, Stritch delivered a rousing rendition of the alcoholic's anthem "The Ladies Who Lunch," which is considered by many today as the definitive performance of the song. The actress originated the role on Broadway in 1970 and later took it to London. 

"September": In one of her few big movie roles, Stritch played a  slight variation on herself as an emotionally callous matriarch in this 1987 Chekhovian drama from Woody Allen. Stritch later recounted that her drinking problems came to a near-fatal climax during a wrap party for the film, eventually inspiring her to go sober.

"A Delicate Balance": Stritch was absent from Broadway for years until the mid-'90s when she made a comeback in revivals of "Show Boat" and this drama by Edward Albee. The actress played yet another alcoholic -- Claire, a cynical, post-middle-aged aunt who dispenses barbed asides -- and received some of the best reviews of her career.

"Elaine Stritch at Liberty": Stritch's autobiographical stage show opened on Broadway in 2002 and won a Tony for best theatrical event. She later took it on the road, including a stop at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, and to London.

"Elaine Stritch at Cafe Carlyle": At the age of 86, Stritch was still at work in a new cabaret show that opened in 2011 at her famous Upper East Side haunt, the Cafe Carlyle. The show was her last big New York hurrah before retiring to her home state of Michigan, though she continued to perform occasionally, including a show at Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2012.

For the record: An earlier version of this story stated that Stritch won a Tony award for "Elaine Stritch at Libery." The Tony in that category is awarded to the producers of the show.

A full obituary on Elaine Stritch will appear at latimes.com/obituaries.


Twitter: @DavidNgLAT   


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