She’s been a Broadway baby since the 1940s, with plenty of ups and downs since. If you saw her hit show At Liberty, you’ll know that a lot of her problems stemmed from a take-no-prisoners persona and a taste for alcohol, though that didn’t stop her from making splashes in big-ticket musicals and cabaret nights at Café Carlyle. There’s no reason, in other words, to think that Elaine Stritch would go quietly, and Chiemi Karasawa’s highly entertaining documentary shows Sondheim’s lady-who-lunches in ingratiatingly acerbic form.
Filmed mostly during rehearsals for her hilariously titled Elaine Stritch Singin’ Sondheim…Again. Why Not?, this is an intimate warts-and-all profile. Energetic though she is, Stritch is beginning to show her age. Lyrics don’t come as quickly to mind, she’s still frequently paralyzed by stage fright (which requires a stiff drink to combat), and her relentless rehearsal schedule is aggravating her diabetic condition.
Longtime accompanist Rob Bowman is there to offer as much assistance as possible, and one of the most upsetting moments comes when he has to talk his professional partner through a ministroke that leaves her unable to speak. But with the bad comes plenty of good, and it’s gratifying beyond words to witness this consummate performer as she feeds off an audience’s energy, turning flubs and forgetfulness continually to her advantage. This is a life lived, perhaps not always well, but certainly to the fullest.
Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich