No matter what you think of Patti LuPone, we can all agree that the woman is endlessly surprising, with an arsenal of tricks up her sleeve that she has yet to display. In Far Away Places Part Two, a sequel to a similarly titled 2012 concert, LuPone manages to shock from the moment she steps on the 54 Below stage. Wearing a tuxedo.
That's right, a tuxedo. A black, formal, men's tuxedo. It's not jarring if you know your LuPone history. The outfit is a throwback to when she performed at the downtown club Les Mouches following the Saturday-night shows of Evita — but to those who know her only from her recent triumphs (Gypsy, Sweeney Todd), the sight of this diva in tails and a white bowtie is likely unexpected.
So, too, is her set list. This isn't an evening filled with "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" and "Everything's Coming Up Roses." In fact, over the course of the 75-minute concert there is only one showtune (but not one you'd expect). Instead, LuPone's musical choices are dedicated to her inherent wanderlust, which developed early on as a youngster touring with John Houseman's Acting Company. She thinks of herself as a cruise director, taking audiences on a journey across the world and kicking off in Jacques Brel's "Amsterdam" (about sailors on shore leave), with pit stops in Berlin, China, and even Switzerland.
Naturally, the Berlin section contains a pair of tunes by Kurt Weill (the evocative "Berlin in Lights" and "Surabaya Johnny," one of the show's dramatic hallmarks), as well as Frederick Hollander's "Black Market" and "Ruins of Berlin" (paying tribute to and simultaneously banishing the memory of Marlene Dietrich, who introduced songs in the Billy Wilder film A Foreign Affair). These tunes fit perfectly in LuPone's range; it's exhilarating to watch her dig into lyrics and musical styles that speak to her on an intellectual level.
But just as thrilling is the chance to watch the esteemed performer show off her more fun-loving side. This is a tour of the world, after all, so naturally there's a detour through "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)", a 1953 swing song popularized in 1990 by They Might Be Giants. Cole Porter's "Come to the Supermarket (in Old Peking)" allows the diva to rap. LuPone and pianist/musical director Joseph Thalken lead an enchanting rockabilly rendition of "Me and Bobby McGee." She proves to be a great match for Billy Joel's "Vienna" and reinvents the song in a way that makes you look differently at the lyrics ("It's alright, you can afford to lose a day or two…when will you realize Vienna waits for you?"). Band members Antony Geralis (accordion/keyboard), Andy Stein (violin), Larry Saltzman (guitar/banjo), and Paul Pizzuti (percussion) provide rousing accompaniment.
Those desiring an evening of greatest hits will likely walk away hungry, but LuPone has other concerts where those songs take center stage. This is a night where you can expect the unexpected and savor the fact that LuPone still knows how to astonish. And no matter how many surprises the diva has in store, she does it with the relaxed confidence you can get only from a legend.
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