It's hardly surprising that this hour-long pairing of the vinegar-voiced actress and the ever sorry-grateful songsmith proves to be be so felicitous: Stritch proved herself a nearly peerless interpreter of Sondheim's work 40 years ago when she originated the role of Joanne in Company -- and she triumphantly repeats her two big numbers from that show, "The Ladies Who Lunch" and "The Little Things You Do Together," here. But to listen to her recite the lyrics to "Every Day a Little Death" without musical accompaniment -- creating a magnificent tone poem in the process -- is to fully realize how much Stritch "gets" Sondheim.
That choice, like many of the others in the act, is typical of Stritch's can-do attitude. (It's completely apropos that she delivers a fiery "Everyone Says Don't" as a personal anthem.) Not many octogenarians would open their act with "I Feel Pretty," even when sung with just the right amount of sly self-mockery; even fewer would follow it up with a defiantly dramatic take on "Rose's Turn," that makes one instantly wonder what kind of Mama Rose the actress would have been if she had ever gotten the chance to perform the landmark role.
Plenty of performers would simply shy away from "Send in the Clowns" -- now Sondheim's most popular song -- but Stritch tackles it with aplomb, adding a touching anecdote about how her late husband, John Bay, sang a parody version (with Sondheim's permission) in a solo show about Groucho Marx.
Stritch concludes the show on a highly gracious note by dedicating "The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me" (from Road Show) to her audience. But there's little question that one of the best things that ever happened to those in the room -- and to Stephen Sondheim -- is Elaine Stritch.
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