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After 40-Year Stretch, Elaine Stritch Returns With Zip to Old Pal 'Joey'

July 20, 1991|SUSAN KING

Some roles are timeless. Just ask Elaine Stritch.

This grand dame of American musical theater is making a rare--her first in 20 years--local stage appearance in the Long Beach Civic Light Opera's production of the 1940 Rodgers and Hart musical, "Pal Joey." She plays a hard-boiled reporter named Melba and performs the snappy number "Zip."

Zip back to 1951--that's when Stritch first played the role of Melba in the successful Broadway revival of "Pal Joey." And now after 40 years, she's returned to the part.

"I have a feeling this might be Guinness Book of World Records material," Stritch notes.

"I was playing 40-year-old women at 20, and now I am playing 40-year-old women at 60. Certain type of actresses get younger instead of older. I always say, 'Only ingenues age.' I know I'm right."

And what's like to be Melba four decades later?

"Words fail me," Stritch cackles. "Your whole attitude is naturally different. You're 40 years older and hopefully wiser."

A lot wiser. In "Zip," Stritch sings the line, "I'm a heterosexual." She admits "when I was 20, I thought 'heterosexual' meant gay. Isn't that wonderful? But I got a laugh when I sang the line."

Though Stritch has appeared on Broadway in "Goldilocks," "Bus Stop" and "Sail Away," she's best remembered for her Tony-nominated turn in Stephen Sondheim's landmark 1970 musical "Company," in which she sang the show-stopping "The Ladies Who Lunch."

"It wasn't easy on a Wednesday matinee, after running eight months, to sing 'Ladies Who Lunch' to the actual ladies who did lunch."

After "Pal Joey," Stritch will return to her home base in New York and ready a one-woman show featuring songs she made famous. " 'Pal Joey' is a nice workout for me," she says. "Jane Fonda works out at a gym and I work out at the Civic Light Opera."

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