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.
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.
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.
Stritch's reaction was amazing.
Stritch asked for three more takes.
Indeed, Stritch's subsequent takes proved to be a struggle.
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.
Record producer Thomas Z. Shepard's assessment of her performance was unsparing.
You can see Stritch deflate as she hears it.
And Sondheim was also at his wit's end.
By the eighth take, everyone's nerves were fried, and Shepard made a particularly stinging request of Stritch.
Stritch, in turn, was having none of Shepard's passive aggression.
She was not ready yet to give up.
But she also had no illusions about her performance.
Sondheim (just off camera) tried to gently support her, but Stritch was having none of that either.
But listening back to her performance with Sondheim, she saved her loudest scorn for herself.
Her final attempt was her worst, and everyone knew it.
And indeed, when Stritch returned, her voice was richer, more resonant, and more full of feeling.
Everyone was thrilled.
No one more so than Stritch.
Just because, here's a fabulous video of Stritch performing the full song.