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FLASH FRIDAY: An Ode To Octogenarians, Onstage & Onscreen

Today we are turning our attention to the increasingly ubiquitous presence of performers in their golden years reaching lofty new career heights and ingratiating themselves with new audiences all the while - most notably, Elaine Stritch, Christopher Plummer, Bruce Dern, June Squibb, Judi Dench, Angela Lansbury, Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones.

FLASH FRIDAY: An Ode To Octogenarians, Onstage & Onscreen80, Actors, 80

Age may be a state of mind, but taste is much harder to define and discern - particularly good taste. Yet, like fine wine, a handful of truly tremendous stage and screen stars have ascended to new levels of fame, notoriety and artistry while in their late-70s and 80s, particularly in the last several months. One need look no further than the brand new documentary ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME, opening in select cities this weekend before a wide release next month, highlighting legendary Broadway icon and recognizable, multi-award-winning small screen and big screen presence Elaine Stritch. Salty, sophisticated, smart and altogether hilarious, Stritch is one of a kind and so is her movie - at turns moving, melancholy, ebullient, effervescent, sobering and always absorbing. It's a true accomplishment and a more than merely worthy capper - or, should we say, grand continuation - of the 89-year-old's remarkably idiosyncratic and fascinating career. Nonetheless, as she herself told me in our extensive InDepth InterView earlier this week - available here - there is nothing Stritch despises more than being called a diva - but, not as a result of the implication of attendant unreasonable demands and fits of fury, but because, as she put it, "God, I could kill when I hear that word; the way it makes me feel... I don't know what it makes me feel like when they call me that, but I don't like it! Not at all. It makes me feel 100-years-old, at least!" Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, though, being 100 - far from it.

Evidently, recent Oscar winner Christopher Plummer took his late-career renaissance - and the gold statue to cement it - to heart on the night of the ceremony a few years ago and soon brought that momentum right back to his first love, the stage, byway of a reprise of his Tony Award-winning BARRYMORE, which was filmed in Toronto to create a breathtaking and innovative one-man-movie (well, almost) shown on PBS earlier this year, depicting the final years of renown stage and screen star John Barrymore. So, too, have acclaimed and instantly recognizable Broadway and Hollywood legends Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones displayed their ample acting chops live onstage in the recent past with an anomalous new elderly-angled take on lovable duo Beatrice and Benedick in William Shakespeare's MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING in the West End. Furthermore, Dame Angela Lansbury - yes, she has now, at long, long last (and long overdue) received the title - is set to return to the West End in a reprise of her Tony Award-winning Madame Arcati in Noel Coward's BLITHE SPIRIT later this year.

FLASH FRIDAY: An Ode To Octogenarians, Onstage & OnscreenAdditionally, multiple 2014 Academy Award-nominated film NEBRASKA boasts not only 77-year-old Bruce Dern in a central, Best Actor-nominated performance - coming shortly after taking home the top acting honor at the Cannes Film Festival, no less - but also Broadway baby, original GYPSY player June Squibb in a Best Supporting Actress-nominated role, at 84, as well. While Hollywood has always been a bit crueler to older actors than Broadway and the West End, no matter their level of fame, it is a refreshing sight indeed to witness appreciation for performers capable of imbuing their work with the same passion, intelligence and sensitive detail evident earlier on, with some - such as Dern - ascending to new heights, even in their 80s. Case in point: Dame Judi Dench at 79 earns every awards prognosticator's sympathy for turning in a finely honed, richly layered and eminently thoughtful characterization of such a unique personage as that of the title character in PHILOMENA the same season as Cate Blanchett's seemingly unstoppable BLUE JASMINE awards steamroller. All the same, come Oscar night, we shall see who truly wins the day - and night.

What makes these stalwarts capable of commanding rapt responses from audiences well into their 70s, 80s, and, in Miss Stritch's case, soon-to-be 90s? An elemental ingredient is undoubtedly something residing inside them from the very start - true, undeniable talent. And, a little luck, too, perhaps.

The Age Of Experience

So, now, let's take a look at some of the most recent offerings from the eight exceptional octogenarians highlighted today as we look ahead to the rest of 2014.

First up, the unquestionable anthem of today's discussion: "I'm Still Here", from FOLLIES, as only Elaine Stritch can do it.



Now, view the trailer for the simply awesome ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME.



After that, take in the complete BARRYMORE with Christopher Plummer.



Sample this featurette all about the recent West End revival of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING starring Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones.



Vanessa Redgrave discusses her participation in this year's THE BUTLER, directed by Lee Daniels.



James Earl Jones performs a memorable OTHELLO monologue at the White House in 2009.



Angela Lansbury joins James Earl Jones for a discussion of DRIVING MISS DAISY, which they recently toured internationally.



Next, here is the trailer for NEBRASKA, starring Bruce Dern and June Squibb.



Following that, view the trailer for Judi Dench in PHILOMENA.



Lastly, Judi Dench recreates her incomparable rendition of "Send In The Clowns" at the National Theatre's 50 YEARS ON STAGE.



Plus, as a special bonus, who could forget everybody's favorite DOWNTON ABBEY character and star, stage and screen legend Maggie Smith?! Enjoy this vintage clip as seen in the National Theatre's 50 YEARS ON STAGE.



So, what is it about these particular performers and their mastery of the acting craft that makes them so continually compelling to witness onstage and onscreen, year after year, decade after decade? What exactly is their secret to such success and longetivity? Furthermore, who is your personal favorite of them all and why? Whatever the recipe, these fine individuals show solid proof that age is merely a number and the impact that a great performance can have on any of us, in any generation, from an actor of any age, is incalculable.

FLASH FRIDAY: An Ode To Octogenarians, Onstage & Onscreen

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Pat Cerasaro Pat Cerasaro is BroadwayWorld's Chief Interviewer and Senior Editor, contributing exclusive columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Flash Fridays as well as additional special features and extensive news coverage. His work for the site has appeared in The New York Times, US Weekly, The Biography Channel, NBC and more.