Regional Reviews: Phoenix
With her musical director Joseph Thalken on piano, LuPone delivered songs from many classic musicals. Her vocal versatility allows her the ability to deliver soaring, clear and bright notes while also infusing the lyrics with emotion and meaning while connecting the words and the character to both the song and the audience. Thalken's expert piano playing and the well thought out song selections for the concert allowed LuPone to show her versatility throughout.
The concert began with the song it is named for, Cole Porter's irreverent love affair to Broadway with updated lyrics that touch upon how commercialized and changed Broadway is today, compared to when LuPone first started her career. Through clever narration, LuPone took the audience back to her beginning when she was just a three-year-old girl growing up with a father who listened to opera recordings and a mother who preferred jazz and musical records. She told how the big-voiced Kate Smith on "The Kate Smith Hour" made her realize she wanted to be a performer. During those early years, she listened to Broadway cast albums, and, though she didn't always know the plot of the show, she would identify with specific characters and the songs. She wanted to sing the songs she heard because she found joy in singing them and she never saw gender or age as an indication that she shouldn't sing a song.
So, while LuPone sang stellar songs from some of her best-known parts on Broadway during her concert, including a buoyant "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," from Anything Goes, an emotionally rich "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" from Evita, and a searing "Some People" from Gypsy, she also sang several songs from classic musicals of the 1960s. Most of the songs are presented in their respective shows by characters LuPone would probably never be cast as due to their gender, age or ethnicity. These included "Trouble" from The Music Man, which LuPone sang in impeccable fashion, and such Rodgers and Hammerstein classics as "Happy Talk" from South Pacific, and "I Cain't Say No" from Oklahoma!, along with more modern songs from the period when LuPone grew up, including "Easy to Be Hard" from Hair and "A Lot of Livin' to Do" from Bye Bye Birdie. LuPone said she loved singing all of these songs when she was growing up and that love came through in her spirited performance. For "Big Spender," which LuPone sang in reference to Sweet Charity being the first show she auditioned for in New York when she was still a teenager, she added that she had no idea what the musical was even about. "How could I not know she was a hooker?" she exclaimed in her signature self-mocking delivery.
She also mentioned that, while she has a reputation for playing strong characters like Eva Peron and Rose in Gypsy, she's often drawn to pretty songs, such as Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's "I Could Write a Book" and "There's a Small Hotel," which she delivered in a slowed down pairing that accentuated the simplicity of Hart's lyrics. She spoke about how it took a while for her to finally make her Broadway debut in a musical. Her delivery of "Meadowlark" from The Baker's Wife, the show she thought would be her Broadway debut but ended up closing out of town, received a soaring and stirring delivery. She spoke of how she first appearances on Broadway were in a couple of plays and her role in the musical Working was the only part that didn't have a song. She then performed the monologue and song "Millwork" from Working, which was sung by another character in that show, which was a powerful reminder of how in tune LuPone always is with the emotions of the characters she plays.
In the second act, LuPone was joined by students from Arizona State University's Musical Theatre and Opera department, who provided warm and lush back-up vocals on several songs, including a joyful "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" from Guys and Dolls and a gorgeous "Sleepy Man" from The Robber Bridegroom. She kept telling the audience how wonderful she thought the group sounded and how impressed she was with these young students. At one point in the show she said their performance even brought her to tears.
She mentioned that West Side Story is her favorite musical and delivered three songs from that show, "Something's Coming," "Somewhere" and a hilarious yet beautifully sung version of "A Boy Like That / I Have a Love" that found her singing the parts of both characters who sing those songs, Maria and Anita.
The latter part of LuPone's career has seen her appear in several revivals of Stephen Sondheim musicals and her concert included beautiful renditions of songs from a few she's been in, whether full scale productions or concerts, including "Not While I'm Around" from Sweeney Todd, the title tune from Anyone Can Whistle, and "Another Hundred People" and "Being Alive" from Company. She sang "The Ladies Who Lunch" from the latter show, which she'll be singing in the Broadway revival in a few months, in a roaring version as one of her encores. Her encore songs also included "Give My Regards to Broadway," a fitting reminder of how LuPone truly loves Broadway and how it has been such an important part of her life. An unmic'd performance of "Some Other Time," in which she was joined again by the students from ASU, left the evening on an emotionally rich high.
I'm always impressed with the acoustics and unobstructed sightlines at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, and this concert was no exception, with the sound delivering crystal clear vocals.
Patti LuPone: Don't Monkey with Broadway was presented at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on November 3, 2019. Information for upcoming concerts at the SCPA can be found at www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org.