By Barbara Vancheri
An old friend of Elaine Stritch recalls meeting the actress, a recovering alcoholic, at an AA meeting. After an opening insult, the performer asked Julie Keyes for a ride home, ordered her to pick her up later with a decaf Diet Coke at the ready and, by the way, to clean her car.
That, ladies and gentlemen (cue the applause), is Elaine Stritch, now 89 but 86 and 87 years old during the filming of a documentary about her six-decade career and her indomitable spirit, brassiness, bossiness, survivor’s instincts and simple belief, “I feel better when I work.”
She may forget the lyrics to a song now and again, due as much to her diabetes as her age, but she soldiers on, turning to musical director Rob Bowman for able assistance, allowing her eyes to twinkle as she pokes fun at herself and invariably winning the audience’s affection along the way. And allowing rehearsals and musical muscle memory to carry the day and bring the words back to her.
That’s what “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” shows as she sings Sondheim numbers, much as she did on Broadway. You see her perform her signature “The Ladies Who Lunch” from “Company” along with the particularly relevant “I’m Still Here” from “Follies.”
Filmmaker Chiemi Karasawa allows Stritch to talk about her life, uses archival photos and some clips to highlight her career and interviews such colleagues as Tina Fey, Cherry Jones, the late James Gandolfini (he played her son in “Romance & Cigarettes”) and theatrical producer Hal Prince.
Fey, who appeared with Stritch on “30 Rock” where she played Alec Baldwin’s mother, calls the octogenarian a great role model.
She’s “confident, brassy, stylish, gorgeous and doesn’t wear pants,” opting for long white button-down shirts and black tights.