Patti LuPone: Far Away Places
The superstar's new cabaret show at 54 Below shows off her versatility, power, and sense of humor to extraordinary effect.
That line, along with some other clever words -- and an eclectic yet brilliantly chosen songlist -- is indicative of the magic that director Scott Wittman has performed, letting us see LuPone in the most relaxed vein I've witnessed in the past three decades. (I can't personally vouch for her legendary shows at Les Mouches in the 1980s.) She plays with the audience, she shares a well-timed anecdote or two, she even boogies a little (to the Bee Gees' "Nights on Broadway"). She's everybody's diva.
Most importantly, of course, she sings -- not just with her trademark power, but with a sublime versatility, finding new interpretations to old favorites, from a jazz-tinged "Gypsy in My Soul" to a super-sexy pairing of "Black Market" and "Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking," and even a surprisingly comic "I Wanna Be Around" (which she dubs the "Sicilian National Anthem) -- all aided by a superb five-man band led by arranger Joseph Thalken.As might be expected, she goes all-out on Stephen Sondheim's "By the Sea" (from her Broadway triumph in Sweeney Todd), mining the song's rich verbal humor. But she also brings a remarkably moving simplicity to such ballads as "I Cover the Waterfront," "Hymn to Love," "Travelin' Light," and the title tune, reveling in their emotional underpinnings.
And while it should be no surprise that she knows her way around the work of Kurt Weill, her renditions of "Bilbao," "Pirate Jenny," and "September Song" are practically master classes in handling these tricky works, finding the perfect tone for each of these diverse classics.
Admittedly, fans expecting an evening of LuPone's greatest hits will not find what they're looking for here -- she does perform two encores, one chosen via tweet from the audience and likely to be a time-tested showstopper, followed by the wonderful "Invisible" (from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) -- but I can't imagine anyone not being transported by Far Away Places.