I'm Still Here is a song written by Stephen Sondheim for the 1971 musical Follies.
"I'm Still Here" was introduced in the musical Follies, which premiered on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre on April 4, 1971. The song was sung by the character Carlotta Campion. The role of Carlotta Campion was originally played by Yvonne De Carlo.
Other performers who have played Carlotta in Follies on Broadway are Polly Bergen in the 2001 revival and Elaine Paige in the 2011 revival. In the 1987 West End production, Carlotta was played by Dolores Gray.
"I'm Still Here" was written during the out of town tryout for Follies in Boston, when Sondheim decided that another song ("Can That Boy Foxtrot") was not working. The song is an example of a "list song". Sondheim noted that "the song develops through decades" (p. 181). Stephen Banfield (Elgar Professor and Head of School of Performance Studies at the University of Birmingham) calls the song a "blues song" (p. 183).
June Abernathy provided an explanation of some of the terms and references in the song. For example, in the phrase "I’ve slept in shanties, Guest of the W.P.A.", "W.P.A." means the Work Projects Administration (1935–43), a U.S. government agency. "Windsor and Wally’s affair" refers to King Edward VIII, King of England in 1936, and Wallis Warfield Simpson, an American divorcee.
Carlotta sings about the many adventures she has been through during her long career, and explains that she has outlived it all.
What makes the song interesting and poignant is the very real mixture of emotions of an older person reviewing her life, seeing how the good and the bad in life are bound to come, alternately or sometimes simultaneously, and in having reached a certain age there is a sense of both cynicism and triumph. This mixture is expressed in the emotional impact of the music itself, which gradually begins to swell as the song progresses from what starts as a nightclub lounge-act performance into a brassy big-band cabaret style finish.
As she goes through an outline of her life, skimming through the pages of her mental scrapbook, she builds up the realization that, good or bad, she managed to get through her life, that she is a survivor. With that realization there is a confidence, a sense of triumph, but with an edge to it. Some youthful tenderness has to be left behind, but "what does not kill you, makes you stronger".
Variety describes the song as "electric". The New York Times called it "the song of the survivor". Elaine Stritch has said that an actress has only earned the right to perform the song once they reach 80. She expressed her frustration that the many women who perform the song in their fifties or forties lack the life experience necessary, demanding to know "where have they been?"
Many performers have recorded the song, including cast albums and other recordings. Among them are: Nancy Walker in Sondheim: A Musical Tribute (1973); Millicent Martin in Side by Side by Sondheim (1976); Gemma Craven Songs of Sondheim (1977); Carol Burnett Follies in Concert (1985); Julie Wilson Sings the Stephen Sondheim Songbook (1988); Cleo Laine Cleo Sings Sondheim (1988); Dorothy Loudon The Stephen Sondheim Album (2000); Elaine Stritch At Liberty (2002) and Sondheim the Birthday Concert (2010); Elaine Paige 2011 Broadway Revival Cast Recording; and Shirley Bassey Hello Like Before (2014).
In popular culture
The character Doris Mann, played by Shirley MacLaine, sang the song in Postcards from the Edge. At the request of director Mike Nichols, Stephen Sondheim wrote special lyrics for Miss MacLaine to sing in the film.
The character Lillian Bennett, played by Carol Burnett, sang the song in Touched by an Angel season 4, episode 10: "The Comeback."
The character Kurt Hummel, played by Chris Colfer, sang the song in the Glee episode in a Sondheim tribute episode in Season Five. TVLine gave the performance an A.