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Elaine doesn't need to stretch far from 'home'

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EVEN when she performed her Tony-winning one- woman show in a large Broadway house, Elaine Stritch made the experience feel as intimate as a living-room conversation.

She doesn't have to work nearly as hard in her current venue.

In her first solo cabaret engagement at the intimate Café Carlyle, the veteran performer once again provides the sort of theatrical magic only a combination of immense talent and long, long experience can provide.

"At Home at the Carlyle" (a natural title, since Stritch is a longtime resident of the hotel) finds the performer working very much in the same mode as in her acclaimed "At Liberty."

Although the songs don't relate as directly to her distinguished musical theater career, she enlivens the material with acerbic and amusing anecdotes that reveal her indomitable personality.

That spirit is demonstrated in her very first number, "Yes, I Can," a musical affirmation that was all the more powerful for the fact that its singer is 80 years old. In Stritch's case, however, age is hardly relevant, as evidenced by her amusingly girlish account of a "date" with opera conductor James Levine. She also provides a running account of her experiences with past beaus, including a belligerent Frank Sinatra.

The performer is in a playful mood here, delivering perfectly timed renditions of such comic numbers as "I Wanna Get Married" and Noel Coward's "I Went to a Marvelous Party." But she also unleashes her formidable dramatic interpretive skills, most notably with Sondheim's "Could I Leave You?" and "Fifty Percent." The latter, from the short-lived Broadway musical "Ballroom," reached a finely pitched intensity that rivaled her classic delivery of "The Ladies Who Lunch."

But it was the penultimate number - "Heart," from "Damn Yankees" - that truly summed up the evening. Even as raggedly delivered by Stritch in her aged, hoarse voice, the warmth and humor of both singer and song came through loud and clear.

ELAINE STRITCH Café Carlyle, Madison Avenue at 76th Street; (212) 744-1600. Through Oct. 29.

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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