A Little Night Music: take three

Just two, actually:

With the blessed addition of Bernadette Peters, there is finally someone who trusts the material and knows how to breathe inside of it. This is dream casting come true, a sure-footed comedienne with a light and generous touch who can command a stage, deliver a line, and get a laugh without looking like she's cramming for a test in it. (And a special thank you from me for that.) That she can turn around and break your heart while doing all of the same, however, is the key that unlocks the character. Desirée is a fool and knows it, it's in every step she takes. She knows, too, that her last chance is passing her by, and the knowledge costs her; it's a desperate hope that prods her on, in spite of everything, that makes her hitch up her skirts and start plotting, because that's what mama taught her to do.

As for that mama: oh, Elaine. Although she veers occasionally into too-literal line readings and I could've done without the snore that ended "Liaisons," I'm not sure how any character created by Hermione Gingold ever got tagged for its patrician elegance or comic restraint. This Madame Armfeldt is no lady; she's got the sharp eye of a bawd and gives the impression that she grabbed every advantage that came her way because she had no choice. These aren't harmless bon mots she's sprinkling around, they're cautionary tales carved out of hard experience. Mostly, though, what you get with Elaine Stritch is the irrepressible life force of Elaine Stritch, which is what makes it all the more poignant to see her confined to that wheelchair, and to watch her try to talk her way backwards, back out of it. It's palpably painful for her, sifting through these memories, and they seem to haunt more than comfort her; she doesn't disapprove of her daughter, she's scared for her.

I still can't say I love the production, which is still too dark, too slow, and too cheap, but this—these ladies sharing these roles on this stage—is both a joy and a privilege to behold.

Endgame @ BAM

Somehow over the past 20 years my mind mixed together Beckett with Pinter and then capped them both off with “Zoo Story,” which I’ve just come to find out was written by neither. Crazy up there! We went to see Endgame because of Stritchie, you know, but it was stellar all around (I thought Max Casella—you will remember him as Vinnie of “Doogie Howser” fame—was the breakout). Something in me was itching to hate it—such meaningfulness about meaninglessness reflexively ruffles my feathers—but I enjoyed it quite a lot, while remaining deeply disturbed. Those two sad old people trapped in those crumpled little trash cans, and that simple line, “Go and see is she dead.” Knowing she would be dead. And “You’re on earth, there’s no cure for that!” And the poetry of it. Almost did me in.

Also, sitting one row in front of us: Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes, with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard right in front of them. V. v. classy.

Christine Ebersole: that’s coffee

My interest in the Tonys this year comes down to one category, and one performance. Oh: and Company. And Raul, but I think that goes without saying.

Ebersole's performance in Act I is charming and pitch-perfect, but what she does in the second act is genius. From the moment she comes out in full Little Edie regalia and coos to the audience in that singular accent: "Oh hiiiiiiii," she becomes at once terrifying and adorable, an object of pity and of worship. This duality is exquisitely embodied in the gorgeous song "Around the World," in which Little Edie veers from ferocious anger over feeling trapped in her mother's house to childlike delight in her wall of special mementos. Ebersole kills with this schizophrenic solo. The key to her success, according to Frankel: "She has a beautiful voice, and she's not afraid to use it in an ugly way."

The critics agree. "Watching [Ebersole's] performance is the best argument I can think of for the survival of the American musical," wrote New York Times chief drama critic Ben Brantley. In its 2006 Off-Broadway run at Playwrights Horizons, Ebersole won the Outer Critics Circle Award and the Obie and Drama Desk Award, and she was given a special citation from the New York Drama Critics and the Drama League for Performance of the Year. The Broadway show is nominated for 10 Tonys. As Elaine Stritch put it in a recent interview: "Christine Ebersole in 'Grey Gardens': That's coffee! That's coffee! That's talent!"

"Spirit of Success"

And wha's a quote from Elaine without a clip of Elaine? Especially when she's coining her own lingo.

Likewise, what's a post on Christine Ebersole without a clip of Christine Ebersole? Singing "Around the World" in character, but not in costume. Proceed with caution.

Elaine Stritch at the Martin

We were the "Carlyle Again" warm-up audience, which suited suttonhoo and I just fine: it was like being backstage at a chummy rehearsal, and cost approximately $400 less than the real thing ("What you see is what they're gonna get," she said). Others in the audience weren't quite so amused, but polished or no, the lady knows how to hold a stage.

Anyway. You probably haven't lived until you've seen Elaine Stritch perform "The Ladies Who Lunch" ("I'm not going to do any Sondheim," she reported at the start, and then, to finish: "I lied").

And you definitely have not lived until you've seen Elaine Stritch perform "Woke Up This Morning" from "The Sopranos" along with a six-piece back-up band. "Hat's fuckin' off," she said at the end, which seemed to sum up the whole thing pretty well. A broad is a broad is a broad, I tell ya, and this one was sassy, salty, and how shall we say, loose of tongue.