Elaine Stritch Just Gets Better

Sunday Morning, Elaine Stritch
CBS/Sunday Morning
Forget the sophomore jinx. A year later, the woman is even better.

Elaine Stritch has returned to the Cafe Carlyle for a second go-around after her triumphant cabaret debut last year in the swank room located in the Carlyle Hotel

Her all-new show, called "Elaine Stritch: At Home at the Carlyle ... Again," is tightly focused, punchier and even more entertaining than her initial effort on a small club stage. Not many performers can segue from a Harold Arlen-E.Y. Harburg "Wizard of Oz" classic to a rap version of the theme song from "The Sopranos."

With Stritch, you get more than songs. You get the person, too — insightful and often quite funny stories of her show-biz life laced with sardonic, no-holds-barred self-analysis. These days, no one is tougher on Stritch than Stritch.

At one point in the show, she describes herself — credited to author and good friend John Lahr — as "scared to perform and scared not to." That combination of brashness and insecurity infuses Stritch's performing style.

And it's a style that the woman and her savvy musical director, Rob Bowman, mine with considerable success. Her zest is apparent right from the start of her more than hourlong show.

At age 81, she looks sensational. Done up in a classy, knee-length black dress designed by Charles Nolan and wearing diamond-drop earrings and a pearl necklace, she strides to the tiny stage and immediately begins belting out a Kander-and-Ebb toe-tapper, "The Life of the Party." Not a bad description of what Stritch was like in what were her younger, more high-spirited days. Heck, she probably still is.

Stritch doesn't just sing songs. She lives them. And her years of experience bring poignancy to the more reflective numbers. One highlight is "Something Very Strange," a quiet, almost sentimental number from her 1961 Noel Coward musical, "Sail Away." In it, an older woman falls in love with a younger man. She finds the heartbreak and tenderness in Coward's lyric and melody and pushes those qualities even further late in the evening with Jerry Herman's beautiful "Song on the Sand."

By Michael Kuchwara