ELAINE STRITCH AT LIBERTY constructed by John Lahr, reconstructed and performed by Stritch, directed by George C. Wolfe. Presented by Bob Benia at the Elgin (189 Yonge). Runs to June 28, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm. $79-$95. 416-872-5555. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
take 50-plus years in show business, stir in a painfully honest look at the joys and sorrows of men and alcohol and top it all off with one invincible life-loving performance and you've got Elaine Stritch At Liberty , Broadway trooper Stritch's delectable solo show. The two-and-a-half-hour memoir with music covers most aspects of the septuagenarian's life, from her Catholic school upbringing in Detroit to her move - at 17 - to New York and her career, which included collaborations with Noel Coward (Sail Away), Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince (Company), not to mention offstage liaisons with the likes of Marlon Brando, Ben Gazzara and Rock Hudson.
Ever the raconteur, Stritch knows how to deliver a zinging one-liner or an extended set piece. Her spirited recreation of the time she understudied Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam and starred in an out-of-town tryout would defeat a performer half her age, while her story about the lead-up to the Broadway premiere of Company is filled with understated warmth.
This warmth, combined with her mischievous streak and good-girl backbone (she was a virgin until 30), is what makes Stritch's act so winning. She's performed these songs and stories hundreds of times (she won a special Tony last year before taking the show on the road), yet her eyes still water at the poignant parts, and you can tell she loves what she's doing. The subtle lighting design, generous musical orchestrations and George C. Wolfe 's careful direction - look what you can do with a brick wall and a chair - help.
Occasionally you wonder if Stritch has taken some liberties with the facts. But when she belts out in her scratchy voice Broadway Baby, I'm Still Here or her signature tune, The Ladies Who Lunch, who cares?