Patti LuPone at Carnegie Hall
In the last two years, the two-time Tony winner has been a busy camper: Her autobiography, "Patti LuPone: A Memoir" became a New York Times bestseller. Her turn in the New York Philharmonic’s production of Sondheim’s "Company" as the ’dark, brooding self-loathing alcoholic truth-teller’ Joanne was lauded by critics. And her roles in David Mamet’s "The Anarchist" and as the guest soloist in the New York City Ballet’s production of "The Seven Deadly Sins" peeked public interest. Naturally, Patti LuPone was overdue for a concert of her own.
One of the primo All-American stage actors of both musicals and straight plays, the Long Island born belter’s vocals have gained just as much praise as it has criticism. Rooted in a Sicilian soul, her delicious mezzo-soprano with that robust vibrato, gorgeous belt, meandering warble and siren-like nasal drawl, has wowed and charmed audiences far and wide. No doubt, LuPone has a personality and presence.
An actor of impulsiveness, intrepidity and interconnectedness is a first-class storyteller with very few peers. But this specific cabaret-inspired showcase is best suited perhaps for nightcaps like Don’t Tell Mama or Café Carlyle, not the majestic Carnegie Hall, which LuPone calls a second home.
The musical numbers, most of them of the lounge act variety, were perhaps too intimate for the massive, world-renowned opera house, swilling and skewing some of LuPone’s dynamic delivery. Designed as if LuPone was singing directly to the audience, the drawback for such a show was the musical numbers themselves.
Directed and imagined by "Hairspray" lyricist Scott Wittman, with musical direction and arrangements by Joseph Thalken, the 15-song track listing was indeed a spirited homage to Broadway. But sometimes, the 95-minute set seemed to drag. Even when LuPone mused the sensual decadence of ’70s Times Square (now a post-Disneyfication wasteland) via Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s "Bilbao Song."
Or when she reminisced of the far-gone cheap eats around Broadway via Cole Porter’s witty "Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking." Based on the concept of travel, chronologically and geographically, at times it felt like LuPone and company forgot the one thing about concerts: people come for the hits; and they didn’t kick in until after intermission.
Given her history, LuPone has a lot of tunes from the American Songbook that she made famous to choose from. She was praised for her asteroid-shower breakout "Evita" which made her the toast of Broadway. There was also her Olivier-winning performance as Fontaine in "Les Misérables." Her ambitious and disillusioned faded Vaudeville glamour as Mama Rose in "Gypsy" still raises goose bumps. Lest we forget, her tapping genius in "Anything Goes"?
Ultimately, the audience was left with a variety of memorable signature numbers. While Act One saw the diva gush retirement and future plans with an unfazed man in "By The Sea" from her riveting take on Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," in Act Two, Lupone soared with the rousing tango pop number "Buenos Aires" from "Evita."
There were also some surprises. Downtown favorite soul mama Bridget Everett joined in to sing the Janis Joplin signature "Me and Bobby Magee" to raves. The classic "Istanbul (not Constantinople)" from They Might Be Giants rose temperatures. But it was Billy Joel’s piano driven "Vienna," which LuPone dedicated to her son Joshua, now traveling with The Acting Company (where LuPone got her start) that brought the house down.
After having played some of the most iconic roles on stage today, the First Lady of Broadway answered what role she’d like sink her teeth in next. Make no mistake, but she would make a dazzling Édith Piaf, as referenced by the foot tapping, knee-slapping Bill Burnett and Marguerite Sarlin number "I Regret Everything," made famous by another Broadway baby, Bette Midler. The comic gem, compared with LuPone’s nonchalant, icy mutter brought the audience to blazing, blistering cheers.
As for encores, LuPone performed three, of which two were chosen out of tweets from the audience requests sent prior to the performance on her Twitter. This resulted in an iron lung rendition of "With One Look" from her heart-wrenching role as Norma Desmond in the West End production of "Sunset Boulevard." She also made one fan’s day with a version of "Happy Birthday." One fan brought a bouquet of white roses and received a jaw-dropping execution of "Meadowlark" from Stephen Schwartz cult-favorite "The Baker’s Wife" as a gift of gratitude.
In addition, LuPone performed two of her own: The seductive signature "Invisible" from David Yazbek’s adaptation of "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," and an a cappella rendition of Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill’s "September Song" from "Knickerbocker Holiday," ending the night on a perfect note.
Making a return to Carnegie Hall for her fourth solo concert, to a skeptic, perhaps the concert was merely a showcase to keep the showbiz star "fresh" for the upcoming "An Evening With Patti LuPone & Mandy Patinkin," which continues February 18, 2014 at Kennedy Center. Perhaps it was to show that she’s still got it. Regardless, I’ll take this Sicilian red-blooded broad any day over your average high-school lyric belting ingénue.