In her one-night stand in the Rose Room, Lincoln Center’s lofty new jewel-box space, Broadway baby Elaine Stritch defined the rare art of solo performance so few performers achieve. At the worldly age of 80, Stritch is more than a legend: She is a monument. Though not a repeat of her Tony-winning solo show “Elaine Stritch at Liberty,” the new program for the American Songbook series — clocking in at an all too fleeting 75 minutes — is equally rich with the same saucy flavor and theatrical savvy. There is knowing insight in her delivery of a show tune, braced by a lethal sense of humor.
Her familiar black tights, blouse and vest look even more stylish against the sparkling night lights of Central Park South. “Why am I doing a club act if I can’t find a play to do?,” Stritch ponders, punctuating her query with the notion that she can always find a five-minute song to treat with the theatrical thrust of a full-length play.
Making a musical assessment of exceptional roles for women on Broadway, Stritch mines the salty humor of the Arthur Schwartz-Dorothy Fields portrait of a genial old beau, “He Had Refinement” from “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” and provides a sharply defined reflection of “Could I Leave You,” Stephen Sondheim’s acerbic observation of a vengeful wife.
A lethal dose of celeb name-dropping, from Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis to a less-than-chummy blind date with Frank Sinatra, is punctuated by the presence of a “busker” who played the violin at Noel Coward’s funeral; his name was Yehudi Menuhin.
Coward, who told Stritch he was afraid of not being remembered, wrote “Something Very Strange” for her to sing in “Sail Away,” and its lilting remembrance of recurring forgotten melodies recalls the master’s bittersweet melodic gift.
The pointed wisdom of Jerry Herman’s optimistic assessment of a “Dear World” is framed with sweet simplicity, although the composer lamented that he ever wrote it. And there’s Sondheim’s rueful guide to bad manners, “The Ladies Who Lunch,” a Stritch perennial.
“I Wanna Get Married,” a naughty old Broadway confessional introduced by willowy torch singer Gertrude Niesen in the ’40s, is an especially keen rediscovered gem.
The durable Stritch is the personification of Broadway’s golden age, and she just may be its last golden nugget. She brings her gold dust to the Cafe Carlyle this fall.