Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 21, No. 3, Ed. 1 Friday, May 28, 2004 Page: 49 of 72
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HBO’s version of ‘Elaine Stritch At Liberty’ cuts out a lot of the magic,
but nothing can dim the light of this old broad
By Arnold Wayne Jones Staff Writer
Whenever Elaine Stritch, now pushing 80,
takes the stage in her Tony-winning solo show
“At Liberty," she ceases being just an actress and
instantly becomes every inch the Broadway leg-
In the confessional, hilarious, tuneful autobi-
ography — featuring nothing more than a stool
and the grande dame herself—
Stritch keeps audiences rapt
with stories so outrageous they
could only be true: Going on a
disastrous date with Marlon
Brando, ditching longtime love
Ben Gazzara for Rock Hudson
(“What a bum decision that turned out to be,” she
groans.), getting roles in the original productions
of “Bus Stop” and “Pal Joey” while understudy-
ing Ethel Merman in “Call Me Madam.”
It’s a tour de force that, in live performance,
clocks in at two-and-a-half hours and still seems
to pass by in a blink. You feel you could soak it
up forever, and Stritch’s own energy appears
So what were the filmmakers thinking when
they put together the version airing this week on
HBO? At a brief 90 minutes, Elaine barely has
time to stretch her legs and settle into her inim-
itable rhythms before we cut away to some back-
stage busywork, as if this were a banal rock con-
cert instead of a theatrical event.
D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, who
directed the movie, were trained as documentar-
ians, not feature filmmakers. That may account
for why they seem restless at the idea of letting
Stritch just be Stritch.
What do they have against allowing her to
hold the stage for long periods'.’ Have they com-
pletely missed the point of her show? They insist
on many of behind-the-scenes,
“making of’ detours that interrupt
the flow of the performance. They
should have just set up the camera
second row center and hit
But even if this “At Liberty” is
more about filmmaking than stagecraft, Stritch’s
light cannot be hidden under a bushel. Whenever
she’s onscreen, which is quite a lot, she’s lumi-
nous. Even though she’s told these stories count-
less times, they feel fresh and alive — which
marks Elaine as a true raconteur and not just an
There is one advantage to Pennebaker and
Hegedus’ approach: The program incorporates
vintage film clips, including the rehearsals for
“Company” where we see Stritch transform the
song “The Ladies Who Lunch” into one of the
enduring classics of modem theater.
Seeing the footage not only adds texture to her
stories, it gives you chills at the chance to watch
history being made while basking in the presence
of the person who made it.
ELAINE STRITCH AT LIBERTY
n Directors: D.A. Pennebaker
K and Chris Hegedus
Premieres May 29 at 8 p.m.
1 hr. 30 min. HBO
THE LAST LAUGH: At age 77, Stritch revitalized her career
with the one-woman show “At Liberty," which recounts
her amazing life in the theater.
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05.28.04 I dallas voice I 49
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Vercher, Dennis. Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 21, No. 3, Ed. 1 Friday, May 28, 2004, newspaper, May 28, 2004; Dallas, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth616511/m1/49/: accessed June 14, 2021), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Special Collections.