TIME Theater

Elaine Stritch: How to Be a Broadway Diva

Elaine Stritch attends the "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" New York Screening at Paley Center For Media on February 19, 2014 in New York City.
Elaine Stritch attends the "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" New York Screening at Paley Center For Media on February 19, 2014 in New York City. Walter McBride—WireImage/Getty Images

The iconic Broadway star was always a commanding presence on stage

When she left New York for good in early 2013 — retiring from show business and moving back to her home state of Michigan — it was as if some fundamental life force had suddenly disappeared from Broadway, like the demolition of a storied old theater or the closing of Mamma Mia. Elaine Stritch didn’t deny, in the few interviews she gave after she left, that she missed the city that she loved and came to embody. (“I’m about as unhappy as anybody can be” she told an interviewer last June.) And when she died on Thursday, at 89, it was perhaps a confirmation of what every New York theater lover already knew: neither Broadway nor Elaine Stritch could live without each other.

She was brassy (her name could almost define the word in Webster’s) and boozy, a salty broad with a gravely, gin-soaked voice bursting forth from an improbably pixie-like figure. Even in her late 70s, when she starred on Broadway in a one-woman show, Elaine Stritch at Liberty, she could show off her still lean and lithe gams in sheer black tights, and make you think that Broadway performers really are immortal. For many, she was.

“She was an indomitable spirit,” said Christine Ebersole, the two-time Tony Award winner who became close friends with Stritch in her later years. “I always felt really close to her — kindred spirits in a way. I admired her tenacity. She was a staunch character.”

Stritch was born in Detroit and began her Broadway career in the late 1940s. She understudied for Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam; sang one of Rodgers and Hart’s most scintillating comic numbers, “Zip,” in Pal Joey; starred in Noel Coward’s 1961 musical Sail Away; and replaced Uta Hagen as Martha in the original Broadway production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (a show, she later claimed, in which she experienced her first orgasm onstage).

But her career-defining turn came in Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical Company, in which she played a hard-drinking society dame and delivered her signature number, “The Ladies Who Lunch.” Stritch’s raspy voice and boozy defiance — “another vodka stinger!” — was the perfect match for Sondheim’s urbane cynicism, and she became one of his greatest muses and interpreters. A few years later she appropriated another Sondheim number as her own, his rousing anthem to show-business survival, “I’m Still Here.”

The song symbolized her own career, which seemed to keep hitting new heights as she aged. Woody Allen gave her juicy characters to play in his movies September and Small Time Crooks. On TV, she co-starred in the British comedy series Two’s Company and had frequent guest-starring roles in American sitcoms, most recently as Alec Baldwin’s hard-bitten mother in 30 Rock. She got a Tony nomination (one of five) for her co-starring role in the acclaimed 1996 Broadway revival of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance.

She was 77 when she had her greatest role on Broadway — as herself in Elaine Stritch at Liberty, for which she won a Tony. She commanded the stage, delivering her signature numbers in between stories about her show-business career and her checkered personal life, from her romantic flings with stars like Marlon Brando and Rock Hudson to her blown audition for the starring role in the TV sitcom Golden Girls.

Backstage, too, she was reputedly a tough broad — always a big drinker, sometimes temperamental and insecure. Even at her last New York cabaret appearance — a farewell show at the Cafe Carlyle in April of last year — she berated the audience for interrupting her and laughing in the wrong places. But she was a Broadway diva who earned the right. She never gave less than her all, and the audience never gave her less than its unconditional love.

TIME Theater

Watch Elaine Stritch’s One-Woman Show About Her Life and Career

Two feature-length films about the actress are available online

+ READ ARTICLE

If you’re looking to learn more about the life of Elaine Stritch, the Broadway legend who died Thursday at age 89, there’s no better authority than Stritch herself. Thankfully, her one-woman show, Elaine Stritch At Liberty, is available in its entirety online (at least for now). In just two-and-a-half-hours, Stritch walks viewers through her career milestones and famous romances — all with the caustic sense of humor she was known for.

Stritch was also the subject of a documentary, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, which costs a few dollars to watch on YouTube and features plenty of tributes from her famous friends. Tina Fey, who worked alongside Stritch on 30 Rock, puts it nicely in the trailer below: “She is confident and brassy and stylish and gorgeous [and] she doesn’t wear pants.”

TIME Theater

Elaine Stritch, Great Dame of Broadway

She was one of theater's funniest women for over 60 years

TIME Theater

Elaine Stritch, Great Dame of Broadway, Dead at 89

She was one of theater's funniest women for over 60 years

+ READ ARTICLE

Updated: 10:07 a.m. ET Friday

Elaine Stritch, the Broadway musical theater actress who was best known for her salty personality and and star power even into old age, died Thursday in Birmingham, Mich., at 89.

She’s one of only stage actresses who worked consistently from the golden age of American theater through to the present. She first starred in a 1952 revival of “Pal Joey,” then a 1955 production of William Inge’s “Bus Stop,” and then played Martha in Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf” from 1962-1964. But she got her big break in 1970, in Stephen Sondheim’s “Company.” She became known as one of the best actresses to interpret Sondheim’s work, which she did again in 2009 in “A Little Night Music.”

Stritch was a theater actress first and foremost, but she also had a successful movie and television career. She most recently played Jack Donaghy’s mother Colleen on 30 Rock when she was already in her 80s, but also made two movies with Woody Allen (September, in 1987 and Small Time Crooks in 2000) over a career that spanned six decades.

“Elaine was a ‘tough old bird’ but I suspect she may have been a ‘tough old bird’ since birth,” 30 Rock creator Tina Fey tells TIME. “I loved her voice, her timing, her stories and her natural elegance. One day she was wearing a beautiful butterfly cocktail ring and when I admired it, she gave it to me on the spot– like an Arab sheik in black pantyhose. I feel very lucky to have worked with her as much as I did.”

The stage was her true home, however– whether it was musicals, dramatic plays, or one-women shows, Stritch’s biggest fans wanted to see her in person.

“I remember seeing Elaine in the touring company of Call Me Madam, in Los Angeles,” six-time Emmy winner Carol Burnett tells TIME. “I was a hopeful musical comedy ‘wannabe,’ still in high school, and she bowled me over. Many years later, in New York, I got to know her and even though our paths didn’t cross as often as I would’ve liked, we would pick up where we left off as if time had never passed. I loved her because she never censored herself when it came to expressing her (often hilarious) opinions. On stage, her comedic timing was impeccable, and as far as selling a song goes, I don’t think she could’ve been topped. One more observation: She had great gams.”

Perhaps her greatest role was playing herself, as the caustic grand dame of the Broadway theater. She won her last Tony for a one-woman show, “Elaine Stritch at Liberty”, in which she sang, danced and told stories to packed houses.

“I’m a funny age — funny ha-ha, funny peculiar, funny, funny. I could hardly open my mouth on the stage without getting a laugh,” she told the New York Times in January. “That’s a pretty sensational thing to brag about, but it’s also dangerous. I had a great time, and I’m very glad it’s over. Oh, my God, it’s hard. Entertaining is hard.”

Here’s a trailer for a documentary about Stritch’s life released earlier this year:

TIME Television

‘All the Way’ With HBO for Bryan Cranston as LBJ

Bryan Cranston
This file image released by Jeffrey Richards Associates shows Bryan Cranston portraying President Lyndon B. Johnson during a performance of All the Way Evgenia Eliseeva—AP

"All the Way" focuses on Johnson early in his presidency after the death of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

(LOS ANGELES) — HBO says it’s “All the Way” with Bryan Cranston reprising his role as President Lyndon Johnson in a TV adaptation of his recent Broadway debut.

HBO Films has acquired rights to the Tony Award-winning play that opened earlier this year to critical and popular success while also winning Cranston the Tony as best actor.

The company said Wednesday that Robert Schenkkan will adapt his play for HBO.

“All the Way” focuses on Johnson early in his presidency after the death of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

HBO hasn’t specified an air date.

Cranston made his Broadway debut in the play fresh from the much-acclaimed finale of his AMC drama series, “Breaking Bad.” He’s nominated for a best-actor Emmy for that show.

TIME Theater

Tupac Broadway Musical to Close Following Dismal Box-Office Performance

Holler If Ya Hear Me Palace Theatre
Tonya Pinkins, left, and Christopher Jackson during a performance of "Holler If Ya Hear Me," at the Palace Theatre in New York. Joan Marcus—Boneau/Bryan-Brown/AP

Holler if Ya Hear Me will close July 20

Holler if Ya Hear Me, the Broadway musical inspired by the music and lyrics of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, will close July 20 following weeks of poor ticket sales and mixed reviews.

“It saddens me that due to the financial burdens of Broadway, I was unable to sustain this production longer in order to give it time to bloom on Broadway,” producer Eric L. Gold said in a statement. “Tupac’s urgent socially important insights and the audiences’ nightly rousing standing ovations deserve to be experienced by the world.”

Directed by Tony Award winner Kenny Leon, the show is one of the worst-selling musicals in recent years, the New York Times reports. The production grossed $154,948 last week — only 17% of what it could have earned.

The musical, which started previews on June 2 and officially opened June 19, played 38 performances and 17 preview shows.

Gold said he made a “rookie mistake by underestimating how much capital was necessary” to keep it afloat in a recent interview with Variety, where he also warned in the past that if the musical failed, it could become difficult for hip-hop and rap to find a home on Broadway.

TIME Theater

Randy Newman’s Faust: The Devil Laughs and Cries

A rare staging of his concept album about God and Satan gets a rousing reception at New York's City Center

Randy Newman stepped onto the City Center stage in New York City Tuesday night as the Devil incarnate: he sported a red-lined black cape and, on his gray head, a set of flaming plastic horns. He would be playing Lucifer, he told the audience at the one-night-only performance in the Encores! Off-Center summer series, in “my version of Goethe’s Faust. His Faust, of course, is a masterpiece. I read the classic comic book, and I concur. Is my Faust the equal of Goethe’s?” Pause. “Only time will tell.”

Time moves slowly for those who would make theater of the folk tale about a man who is tempted to sell his soul to the Devil. Goethe began work on his two Faust plays when he was 23 and continued until his death 60 years later, in 1832. Nearly two centuries later, his unwieldy tragedy is ranked among the triumphs of German literature.

Newman, the 70-year-old Oscar-, Grammy- and Emmy-winning pop composer, has been Fausting for a meager two decades. The piece first appeared as a concept album in 1995, with Newman in the role of the Devil (Mephistopheles in Goethe’s version), James Taylor as the Lord, Don Henley as Faust, Linda Ronstadt as his beloved Margaret, Bonnie Raitt as Margaret’s friend Martha and Elton John as a British angel named Rick.

(READ: Corliss on the Randy Newman album Bad Love)

Newman might have devoted his energy to Broadway scores, as earlier pop songwriters like Irving Berlin and Frank Loesser had done. But Broadway didn’t welcome music in the pop-rock vein, until top-40 tunes had become classics suitable for greatest-hits shows like Jersey Boys and Beautiful. And maybe the collaborative discipline of writing for the stage didn’t appeal to the hermit-y Newman. At the Faust curtain call he seemed embarrassed by the theatrical tradition of cast members’ joining hands. Every note that night sounded full and fine, but when it came time to bow, Newman was out of synch. It may have been his first time on a New York stage; it may be his last.

So no Broadway. Newman created hits for others (“I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today,” “Mama Told Me Not to Come”) and himself (“Short People,” “I Love L.A.”); and his 1974 “Louisiana 1927″ (“They’re trying to wash us away”) became the anthem-dirge for New Orleans after the Katrina hurricane. Like his uncles Alfred, Lionel and Emil, and his cousins David and Thomas, he composed lush film scores (Ragtime, Pleasantville). And, in what some observers consider his career deal with the Devil, he contributed chipper jingles to Pixar movies, winning Original Song Oscars for “If I Didn’t Have You” from Monsters, Inc. and “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3. His only full song-score was for Disney’s The Princess and the Frog: nine lovely songs with a bluesy New Orleans lilt.

(READ: Corliss’s review of The Princess and the Frog)

Briefly, Faust looked to follow the trail of other pop concept albums — Jesus Christ Superstar, Tommy, Evita, Chess, Les Misérables — that were turned into musical-theater standards. Shortly after the album was released, Faust got a staging at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse, and then at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, with David Mamet reshaping the libretto. Producer Lorne Michaels announced his intention to bring the show to New York City, but it never got here — until it played this week, a block and a half from Broadway, in an extension of City Center’s acclaimed Encores! series of musical revivals.

(READ: Why Encores! is the best thing nearly on Broadway)

On the evidence of this week’s performance — with a stripped-down book, a glittery Broadway cast directed by Thomas Kail, an 11-piece orchestra and the 15-member Inspirational Voices serving as the Lord’s gospel choir — Newman’s Faust may not quite measure up to Goethe’s, or to Gounod’s 1859 opera. As a song cycle, it’s also a bit below Newman’s finest albums, Good Old Boys (1974) and Land of Dreams (1988). The songs are a series of sardonic, occasionally angry, often moving statements that work individually but don’t quite cohere. It’s closer to vaudeville, of the most sumptuous, acerbic sort.

In tone and viewpoint, this is the anti-Faust, an atheist’s Faust. Newman proposes that belief in God, let alone in a human soul, is its own cosmic comedy. In his first number, the Devil offers the Lord (Isaiah Johnson, from Peter and the Starcatcher) a pocket history of organized religion: “Some fools in the desert / With nothing else to do, / So scared of the dark / They didn’t know if they were coming or going, / So they invented me / And they invented You. / And other fools will keep it all going / And growing.”

(READ: a 1954 review of Gounod’s Faust by subscribing to TIME)

In Newman’s telling, the Lord is kin to the God described by Peter Cook’s Satan to Dudley Moore’s Faust in their 1967 film comedy Bedazzled: an egotist who created Earth and Heaven for no reason other than to have his creatures perpetually glorify Him in speech and song. For a moment Cook plays God and asks Moore to be Lucifer: “dance around, praising Me,” for all eternity. Moore soon says, “I’m getting a bit bored with this. Can’t we change places?” And Cook replies, “That’s exactly how I felt.”

(READ: TIME’s review of the 1967 Bedazzled)

Newman’s Lucifer — called Luci by his divine frenemy — is no less rancorous toward the Lord’s complacency. Yet he doesn’t agree with Milton’s Satan, in Paradise Lost, that it’s “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heav’n.” Tired of the ease with which mankind falls into sin, and then into Hell, he’s eager to get back home. So he bets the Lord that he can convince a human, any human, to sell his soul to the Devil; the stake is Luci’s restored status in Heaven as God’s most beautiful Archangel.

The earthling in question is Henry Faust (Tony Vincent, who sang Judas in the 2000 Jesus Christ Superstar revival and St. Jimmy in American Idiot). Instead of Goethe’s noble scholar, this Faust is a selfish creep “in his eighth year as a sophomore” at Notre Dame — a true American idiot, and a violent one, who’s “got suicide and murder runnin’ in and out my brain.” When the Devil tells him he can have all worldly glory in exchange for his immortal soul, Henry asks, “So what’s the catch?”; he doesn’t believe in a soul either. He befriends the sweet Margaret (Laura Osnes, who played the title role in the revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella) and impregnates her; she goes mad, sings a lullaby to their baby — the lovely “Sandman’s Comin’ Soon” — and drowns it, then dies.

Margaret’s poignant Calvary is straight from Newman’s source. He drolly describes it as “the comic high point of Goethe’s original play, and one of the most delightfully urbane moments in all of German literature.” But it’s just one of the small atrocities Newman presents to strengthen his argument that God’s world is a place of egregious imbalance. In “Best Little Girl,” the Devil tells of a churchgoing sweetie whom he coaxes into a date with a lifeguard; the two “were found the next day / Drowned in their own vomit.”

(READ: TIME’s 1966 cover story, “Is God Dead?”)

Later, an Angel Child (sweet little Brooklyn Shuck) tries to console the Devil, singing, “Perhaps when you were little / No one held you in their arms / And told you that they loved you very much.” The Devil has to remind her that, two years earlier, the girl was shot and killed by a man who went unpunished, got rich and, when he dies, will “be whisked right up to Heaven.” Relating this tale gives the Devil no pleasure. “Why? / You may ask yourself why. / For thousands and thousands of years / I have asked myself why.” If life and death are unfair, then the greatest sinner must be the puppet master — God.

So Newman’s Faust is a cantankerous debate not between Faust and Mephistopheles but between a God who may not exist and a Devil reduced to cynicism by observing the pain that humans inflict and endure. That theme is more suitable for a balladeer whose lyrics crawl inside the bitter sentiments of the ignorant or the dispossessed, and which he performs in the croak of a surly hobo.

And as Newman’s song often encase misanthropic words in angelic ragtime melodies, so his listeners always had to infer the ironic abrasion between the songwriter and the views of the characters he creates. How many people heard his 2012 “I’m Dreaming (of a White President),” which mocks the attitudes of some of Obama’s most vicious detractors — and for which Newman suggested a donation to the United Negro College Fund — as a vindication of their wistful racism? “I’d like it to be clearer which side I’m on,” the deadpan satirist told Slate. “Of course, it comes a little late.”

(WATCH AND LISTEN: The video for Randy Newman’s “I’m Dreaming”)

A similar gulf opened in this week’s Faust. How much amusement were we to take from the world’s miseries, even when sung? Answer: Plenty. The author-performer provided some when his Devil, early in the show, takes a comic hit from the Lord’s dismissal of “those stupid old shuffle songs” that Newman has been writing for five decades; later, in the midst of playing and singing “Never Good Enough,” he mutters, “He could be right about those shuffles.”

The audience was in an exuberant mood throughout, taking Newman’s bleak jaundice as jauntiness, laughing off the apostasy and loving those shuffles. I think the crowd got a contact high from just being present at the only New York performance a Newman musical was ever likely to see, and given thrilling voice by the entire cast. Michael Cerveris, a Tony-winner for Steven Sondheim’s Assassins, parlayed his one song, “Little Island,” into a poignant requiem for the British Empire. Vincent tore the house down with Faust’s thunderous “Bless the Children of the World,” then Osnes lifted it up with the tender “Gainesville” (“I have tried all my life to be kind to others / Even when others were unkind to me”). Sweet music trumps sour lyrics every time.

(READ: Richard Zoglin on Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins)

The closest Faust came to having a hit song, or a pure love song, was “Feels Like Home,” performed originally by Raitt and covered by Ronstadt in a trio with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. A depressive’s prayer of redemption, it received a splendidly throaty reading by Vonda Shepard, the Ally McBeal piano-bar singer cast here as Martha, with Newman joining in. It was one of those moments unique to theater: you could sense the people on stage and those in City Center’s 2,257 seats united in awe.

At song’s end, the audience erupted in grateful cheers — and Newman quickly wiped a tear from his right eye. You see, scoffers and believers alike: the Devil Randy has a heart. Maybe even a soul.

TIME Theater

Bryan Cranston Leaves ‘All the Way’ On a New High

Bryan Cranston
Actor Bryan Cranston accepts the award for best performance by an actor in a leading role in a play for “All The Way” on stage at the 68th annual Tony Awards in New York on June 8, 2014. Cranston left Broadway with a Tony Award and a new record. Evan Agostini—AP

The former Breaking Bad star, Bryan Cranston, left the Broadway show "All the Way" on Sunday by breaking box office records for an eight-performance week

(NEW YORK) — Bryan Cranston left Broadway with a Tony Award and a new record.

The former “Breaking Bad” star ended the run of “All the Way” on Sunday with a huge weekly haul at the box office of $1,623,495, a new milestone for a play during an eight-performance week in the history of Broadway. The average ticket price was $141 and the top premium went for $225.

Robert Schenkkan’s play focuses on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s first year in office and explores both his fight for re-election and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It earned back its $3.9 million costs, just days after celebrating its 100th performance.

It won the best play Tony in June and Cranston as L.B.J. won the best actor in a play statuette.

TIME celebrities

Neil Patrick Harris Smooched Josh Radnor During Hedwig Performance

Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER.
Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. Richard Cartwright—CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

It was a legen — wait for it — dary kiss

How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor shared a special moment with former cast-mate Neil Patrick Harris while attending a recent performance of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the Broadway musical in which Harris currently stars.

“He came out in the audience during ‘Sugar Daddy’ and planted a big kiss on my forehead, which humiliated me and also made me very happy,” said Radnor, who this year is starring in plays The Babylon Line and Disgraced, in an interview with Broadway.com.

Now that his long-running CBS show is over, Radnor says he’s thinking about following Harris’ lead and returning to his musical roots. “I did a benefit of She Loves Me a couple years ago with Kelli O’Hara, and I would love to do a production of that,” he said. “We’re talking about it a little bit, but there’s nothing set. I started off in musicals, and I still thing it’s the most adrenaline-producing, fun thing.”

[Broadway.com]

TIME Theater

First Wives Club Might Be Headed to Broadway

Actresses Goldie Hawn (L), Diane Keaton (C) and Be
Actresses Goldie Hawn (L), Diane Keaton (C) and Bette Midler (R), who all starred in the movie the "First Wives Club," rehearse for the 69th Academy Awards to held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California 24 March.( TIMOTHY A. -- CLARY/AFP/Getty Images) TIMOTHY A. CLARY—AFP/Getty Images

The '90s female empowerment movie will be a musical

A musical version of The First Wives Club is set to be Chicago’s next pre-Broadway tryout, opening in the Loop next spring and possibly headed to Broadway for the 2015-2016 season.

The new musical version of the 1996 revenge comedy starring Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, and Diane Keaton will have music by Holland-Dozier-Holland (Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland,) who are famous for writing hits for Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, and the Supremes. The musical will be based off the 1996 movie as well as the 1992 Olivia Goldsmith novel that inspired it.

The show will be written and produced by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, making her Broadway debut, but will draw heavily on an earlier musical version by Rupert Holmes, the Chicago Tribune reports.

“I really see this as my chance to do broad-shouldered women,” Bloodworth-Thomason told the Tribune. “I really love these three girls.”

[Playbill]

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