a theatre, film & pop culture review
Mandy and Patti are together again, and the result is every musical theatre geek’s wet dream. With her big, brassy belt and his otherworldly, crazy-town falsetto — not to mention their incredibly over-the-top personalities — An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin guarantees a good time. Whether you’re a Sondheim snob, Great American Songbook aficionado or a Gleek, this is the show for you.
It’s hard to believe this is only the second time the Broadway divas have shared a stage on the Great White Way. Aged three years apart, they attended Juilliard at the same time, in the infancy stage of the school’s drama program, but they didn’t officially meet until the summer of 1979 in Los Angeles for the tryout of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s second Broadway-bound musical. It seems fitting, then, that as they reunite and once again perform some of the songs that solidified their statuses as musical theatre legends, Evita is also prepping for its first Broadway revival (starring Ricky Martin (!), Elena Roger and Michael Cerveris).
Fitting, but also just a tad bit sad. That 30 years have passed between these incarnations serves as a reminder that LuPone and Patinkin are no longer on the upswing of their careers. True, she’s been keeping busy with award-winning revivals (Gypsy, John Doyle’s Sweeney Todd) and some, well, less than stellar premieres (Women on the Verge). And though Patinkin has been largely absent from Broadway — excluding special concerts, his last appearance was back in 2000 in Michael John LaChiusa’s The Wild Party — he’s been dabbling in Shakespeare and puppets off-Broadway and consistently working in television (currently co-starring with Claire Danes in USA’s well-reviewed Homeland).
This is all to say that it’s a delight to have them back together again, doing what they do best. Though it’s certainly not the first time they’ve come together for an Evening. A theatre in Richardson, Texas cleverly tricked them into performing together back in 2002, and it was then that Patinkin (who also directs) and his longtime pianist Paul Ford conceived of Evening as it is now: a song cycle of the ups and downs of love, the two work their way through the cockeyed optimism of South Pacific through the hyper neuroses of Sondheim and back again to the heartbreaking reality of Carousel. The first act is heavy on the former musical and the second act, the latter, to the point where musical sequences from those shows are done in their entirety, dialogue and all. Never minding that it’s a stretch to imagine LuPone as a teenaged wallflower– that silly pony tail isn’t fooling anyone, Patti — with a legit voice, but it’s also takes such a commitment, from both the performers and the audience, to delve so deeply, so briefly. LuPone and Patinkin are decidedly at their best when they’re switching deftly from song to song and show to show: The magic of the evening results from marveling at their transformative abilities, both in voice and character.
LuPone’s belt appeared to be on holiday — or she was simply saving herself for the evening’s big moment, and certainly “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” was her strongest, most poignant performance. Only a couple of shows into the run (that will transfer into a touring production come mid-January), though, LuPone is already in weak voice, and even her Mama Rose couldn’t quite hack it — I was a bit worried she wouldn’t actually hit the vocal heights of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” But the performance was feisty, and her fantastic facial expressions and spot-on comic timing largely make up for her shaky vocals.
But I’ve always preferred Patinkin over Patti, and Mandy had plenty of magical moments. Showcasing his signature hyperbole in a mesmerizingly manic take on “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me-Blues” (Follies), he pushes comic neuroses to the edge with screwy hand gestures and a sputtering smile. He was equally showy but oh-so-slightly more subtle in “Everybody Says Don’t” (Anyone Can Whistle), demonstrating his vocal agility by switching effortlessly from that soft, almost feminine lilt to a guttural growl. When it’s finally time to revisit his Tony Award-winning performance, he doesn’t disappoint: “Oh What a Circus” makes us wonder how Ricky Martin can ever possibly hold a candle to this master.
I only wish Patinkin’s theatrical concept encompassed his full musical range: where’s the manic minstrelsy of The Wild Party? The faltering falsetto of The Secret Garden‘s crippled shut-in? The obsessive artist of Sunday in the Park with George? Sure, one can’t include everything in a single show, but these feel like missed opportunities when there’s an over-abundance of Rogers and Hammerstein and Kander and Ebb. The evening also lacks one major key: in a concert performance such as this, typically between songs, the performers chat with each other, regaling the audience with gossipy backstage tales and peppering their performances with personal anecdotes. Disappointingly, this only occurs once in the 2 hour show that is all singing and dancing (an enormously funny dance duet in swiveling office chairs — “April in Fairbanks” — can be credited to choreographer Ann Reinking), but the two, who are obviously dear, dear friends, make the most of the time: whispering to each other conspiratorially between songs, LuPone gigglingly boasts that, during one of her numbers, Patinkin openly admires that her “breasts look great.” And throughout the course of the evening, whilst the theatre hilariously encounters one lighting dilemma after another, the two slyly incorporate the malfunctions into lyrics to much humorous effect.
It all comes off as a more than a bit showchoir-y (nostalgia and horror for my similarly styled performances in high school alternately overwhelmed me throughout the night) with the minimal choreography and the cheesy transitions, but if any pair can get away with it — neigh, make it work to their advantage — it’s Patti and Patink. You could hardly do better than to spend an Evening with these Broadway stalwarts.