Wednesday, May 6, 2009

An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, PlayhouseSquare

If you have aspirations of being a Broadway—or pretty much any other kind—of singer, your advanced class is now in session at the Palace Theatre in PlayhouseSquare. An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin will teach you more in a couple hours than a year’s worth of conventional instruction. (Of course, if you only aspire to see a great show, the Palace should also be your destination.)

The vast majority of these lessons are positive, especially as they relate to the emotional delivery of songs that tell a story. But there are also a couple instances of excessive, stagey mannerisms that any budding singer might be counseled to avoid.

The show stars two performers who have amassed hefty Broadway portfolios. A winner of enough awards to fill a small cruise ship, LuPone recently finished a smash revival of Gypsy, playing the mother of all stage mothers, Mama Rose. Patinkin won a Tony Award for his performance as Che in Evita, with LuPone in the title role.

As directed by Patinkin on a bare stage with only some scattered work lights, the concert presents a stream of consciousness flow of songs, mostly from Broadway’s composing elite such as Stephen Sondheim, Rogers and Hammerstein, Jerome Kern and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Happily, Patti and Mandy pause a couple times for snatches of scenes from the classic shows South Pacific and Carousel.

Many of the songs are paired thematically so they represent a musical dialogue. In one of these, LuPone comically declares her objection to further commitment in “(I’m Not) Getting Married Today” and Patinkin responds tenderly with “Loving You.”

Among the many glories of this production, the foremost has to be the ability of the two performers to instantly find the emotional heart of each song and then express it in unique, individual ways. Oddly, the high point of the show happens almost immediately, when they play the South Pacific scene along with singing “A Cockeyed Optimist,” “Twin Soliloquies” and “Some Enchanted Evening.” In the span of a mere ten minutes, one feels the full impact of the relationship between Emile de Becque and Nellie Forbush.

There are countless other high points, such as the mash-up of “April in Paris” and “April in Fairbanks,” the latter highlighted by a witty rolling chair ballet choreographed by Ann Reinking. And LuPone delivers a couple audience favorites, such as a stirring rendition of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” to end Act One and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”

While LuPone is consistently enchanting, whether in dramatic or comic mode, Patinkin hits a couple screechingly off-kilter trouble spots. One of these is in his over-the-top performance of “The God-Why-Don’t-You Love-Me Blues” from Follies. Mugging insufferably, he turns this wry and rueful tune into a frenzied bit that is more endured than enjoyed. In addition, Patinkin’s falsetto croon, which he often employs, is an acquired taste. There are time when it works piercingly well and others when it just seems like he’s showing off.

But there are so many transcendent moments in Evening that the rough patches hardly matter. If you sing, or if you just listen, this is a show you shouldn’t miss.

An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin
Through May 17 at the Palace Theatre,
PlayhouseSquare, 1615 Euclid Avenue,

No comments: