That existential problem in tights is back at home at the Carlyle. Elaine Stritch, who lives on the third floor of the venerable hostelry, steps down to the ground-floor cafe where she regaled New Yorkers with her cabaret debut last September. Stritch is a force of nature, all right, and she is sure to attract numerous fans over this eight-week gig.
After a career full of ups and downs, Stritch finally put it all together in 2001 with her one-woman show “Elaine Stritch at Liberty,” which brought her her first Tony and her first Emmy and made her a bigger star (at 76) than ever. And understandably so: Stritch had co-writer John Lahr and director George C. Wolfe to mold, shape and perform theatrical alchemy.
Last year’s cabaret attempt, “Elaine Stritch at Home,” was something of a continuation of “At Liberty.” The songs were changed, but the power of Stritch telling her sometimes searing stories was even more immediate in the intimate confines of the Carlyle.
“At Home … Again” gives us another 85 minutes of the remarkable octogenarian. But it’s unreasonable to expect lightning to strike every time. While the new evening packs some fireworks, the impact is somewhat diminished. The musical part of the program is top-notch (and stylishly orchestrated by Jonathan Tunick); but the conversational patter meanders, and is perhaps a bit too conversational.
The one strong dialogue section comes from Lahr, in the form of a letter perceptively comparing Elaine to his father, tormented comic genius Bert Lahr. But the rest — stories about Stritch shopping for groceries at Gristedes? — is clearly not written by Lahr, directed by Wolfe or effectively edited.
Music director Rob Bowman ably leads his six-man band. Stritch heavily leans on the personable Bowman, who presumably had a hand in the interesting song selection. In addition to four numbers the star performed in various Broadway musicals, Stritch sings Kander & Ebb’s “The Life of the Party” (which makes an effective opening number), Styne, Comden & Green’s “Comes Once in a Lifetime,” Cahn & Van Heusen’s “The Second Time Around” (with fine trombone playing from Jack Gale) and even the theme from HBO’s “The Sopranos.” Most songs feature uncredited new lyrics, tailored to the occasion.
The one musical miscue is a puzzling piano-only medley from “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Bowman plays this very well, yes. But why a non-Stritch interlude? It’s understandable the star might need a breather at the one-hour mark, but the seemingly random choice of Lloyd Webber is mystifying. Stritch sat during Bowman’s solo positively beaming with joy, but few smiles were visible on customers’ faces.
Highpoint of the act comes with what Stritch terms “an autumn-of-our-life” song. “Who’s kidding?” the star adds. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” She then quietly sits back and delivers a lovely, incredibly poignant rendition of “Song on the Sand.” Stritch elevates Jerry Herman’s memory chanson to the level of Kurt Weill’s “September Song.” It’s that good.
Stritch is one of a kind, and she won’t disappoint the loyalists who flock to the Carlyle. But $120 (plus compulsory dinner) is a pricy tab for an evening not quite up to recent visits with Elaine.