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Elaine Stritch at Liberty at The Curran Theatre

"Elaine Stritch at Liberty" is a Broadway baby's science experiment: full of grand lights, big songs, strong comedic timing and dependent variables. It's basically a two-and-a-half hour long inside joke, and why not? After 77 years, Elaine Stritch has earned the right to be self- referential for $78 a ticket. She has performed in "A Delicate Balance," "Company," and "Pal Joey." She's got the inside scoop on Brando, Burton and Garland, and a nostalgic voice of gravel. She also happens to have the best legs in the biz. For those who lack a taste for retrospect, but still crave meta- autobiography, go rent "8-Mile." For those who like their songs Sondheim and their jokes old-time, this one-woman performance - constructed by Stritch and John Lahr - is a joyous showboat.

The set and costuming are basic. Stritch simply dons black tights and a man's collared shirt throughout the entirety of the show. Somehow though, she transforms herself into various characters: from Hal Prince to Gloria Swanson. Her only prop is a solitary chair, but the nine-piece orchestra and variable lighting render an ornate Broadway feel. From the opening: "There's No Business Like Show Business," to a rousing rendition of "I'm Still Here," the audience is taken back in time.

Stritch's famed battle with alcohol is the vein that weaves the plot together: comically and tragically. She introduces her odyssey, which began with a taste of whiskey at the age of 13, with the love song: "This is All Very New to Me." Throughout the show, Stritch decontextualizes classics by Rodgers and Hart, George Gershwin, Noel Coward and Steven Sondheim, making them relevant to her own autobiography. She annotates the tune "Zip" with a comedic memoir of her daily commute between a New Haven theater and her role in New York City as a stand-in for Ethel Merman. During "There Never was a Baby Like My Baby," she tells the tale of the death of her husband John Bay. All the while, Stritch recalls drinking alcohol to avoid loneliness, to celebrate, and most importantly, to gather courage onstage.

"[During] the opening [of a show] when your heart beats like a drum, I'll drink to that. And I did," she
deadpans.

One problem with the show is Stritch's easy resolution of her alcoholism. She describes the onset of diabetes as a catalyst for sobriety, yet her struggles are never fully conveyed. Instead she describes only two attempts at quitting, one failed and one successful, creating a sort-of "hooray for me" affect. Perhaps some dramatic material was edited out in an effort to keep things light; however, one wonders just how much stronger the journey would be if Stritch took us with her to rock bottom. With a bevy of jokes that stretch from beginning to end, Stritch certainly has more room for
drama.

With all that room onstage, Elaine Stritch still has it: especially for those who seek to saunter in retrospect past hip musicals like "Urintown," "Rent," and "Hairspray." As they say in "42nd Street": "When the Broadway baby says goodnight,
it's early in the morning." For Elaine Stritch, it's always night.

"Elaine Stritch at Liberty" runs from July 15 through July 27 at The Curran Theatre. Tickets are available for
$35 and $78. The Curran theatre is located at 445 Geary St (between Mason and Taylor),
San Francisco. For information call 415.551.2000. For reservations call 415.512.7770

<a href="/business.php?blId=839">Curran Theatre</a>
445 Geary Street
(between Mason and Taylor)
Time: Tuesday - Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2 pm.
Admission: $30 - $85 general admission
Phone: 415.551.2000
<a href="http://www.bestofbroadway-sf.com">www.bestofbroadway-sf.com</a>;