Entertainment

The One Elaine Stritch Performance You Need To Watch Right Now

“Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiise!”

1. Broadway legend Elaine Stritch, who died Thursday at 89, was known for many iconic performances, none of them more indelible than “Ladies Who Lunch” from Stephen Sondheim’s Company. But Stritch, never a “great” singer, sometimes struggled with the song.

2. In director D.A. Pennebaker’s 1970 documentary about the making of the original Broadway cast recording of Company, Stritch famously struggled through take after take.

The sequence is an uncommonly revealing look into Stritch’s hard-knuckle process, and how she was often her own fiercest critic.

3. After the very first take, in fact, Sondheim thought Stritch’s voice was already hurting, and decided the song’s key should be lowered to compensate.

Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com

4. Stritch’s reaction was amazing.

Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com

The hat!

5. Stritch asked for three more takes.

Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com

Sondheim agreed, but he was wary. “Your voice is tired,” he said. “I want to be sure that we get, you know — this is the permanent recording. Therefore, it’s important.”

6. Indeed, Stritch’s subsequent takes proved to be a struggle.

Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com

Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com

 

Stritch’s performance here is far from perfect, especially for a cast recording. And yet she is still an electrifying performer — you can feel her desperation, both as the character in the song and the actress fighting against a voice that won’t deliver what she needs.

7. Record producer Thomas Z. Shepard’s assessment of her performance was unsparing.

Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com

Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com

 

You can see Stritch deflate as she hears it.

8. And Sondheim was also at his wit’s end.

Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com

9. By the eighth take, everyone’s nerves were fried, and Shepard made a particularly stinging request of Stritch.

Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com

Stritch, her voice exhausted, had relied too much on speak-singing the song, and Shepard was having none of it.

10. Stritch, in turn, was having none of Shepard’s passive aggression.

Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com

11. She was not ready yet to give up.

Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com

12. But she also had no illusions about her performance.

Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com

13. Sondheim (just off camera) tried to gently support her, but Stritch was having none of that either.

Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com

Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com

 

14. But listening back to her performance with Sondheim, she saved her loudest scorn for herself.

Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com
Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com

16. Her final attempt was her worst, and everyone knew it.

They only had their orchestra for that one recording session. So Sondheim and Shepard sent Stritch home and laid down a clean orchestral version of the song that Stritch could sing along to by herself a few days later after her voice had rested.

Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com

17. And indeed, when Stritch returned, her voice was richer, more resonant, and more full of feeling.

Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com

18. Everyone was thrilled.

Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com

19. No one more so than Stritch.

Leacock-Pennebaker / Via youtube.com

Rise, Elaine. RISE.

20. Just because, here’s a fabulous video of Stritch performing the full song.

We will miss you, Elaine. Here’s a toast to you.

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