Elaine Stritch

Elaine Stritch performs at the Cafe Carlyle in New York, with Rob Bowman at the piano. (Walter McBride / Associated Press / April 3, 2013)

New York theater institutions don't come much feistier or more dynamic than Elaine Stritch. The tart-tongued, 88-year-old force of nature -- whose stage career includes memorable collaborations with Stephen Sondheim and Edward Albee -- kicked off her farewell series of cabaret performances this week at the Cafe Carlyle.

Stritch announced last month that she would be retiring from the stage and moving back to her native Michigan. The actress cited her failing health for her decision. Stritch has lived at the Carlyle Hotel for many years and has performed cabaret acts there since 2005.

On Tuesday evening, Stritch began her final five performances to an audience that included Tom Hanks, Tony Bennett, Martin Short, Liza Minnelli and Bernadette Peters. Earlier this week, Hanks opened on Broadway in "Lucky Guy" by Nora Ephron.

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Stritch will end the cabaret series on Saturday. General seating costs $125 per person, with premium seating at $175. A seat at the bar costs $85.

Reports stated that Stritch bantered with Hanks from the stage and that she talked more than she sang. Still, she eked her way through three songs, including a number by Rodgers and Hart. She was accompanied by her longtime collaborator, Rob Bowman, on the piano.

Stritch's stage career includes Broadway productions of "Pal Joey," "Company" -- the song "Ladies Who Lunch" was one of her signature pieces -- and "A Delicate Balance." She won a Tony Award for her solo show "Elaine Stritch at Liberty" in 2002.

In recent years, she played Alec Baldwin's mother on the NBC sitcom "30 Rock."  A documentary about the actress titled "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" is expected to run at the Tribeca Film Festival later this month.

Stritch has had a public battle with alcoholism and gave up drinking in the '80s. But the New York Times reported Wednesday that the performer confessed that she was so scared before the show that she had had half a drink. 

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