“I’m bored with it. I wish they’d do something other than stand around and sing.” - Patti LuPone on opera
Don’t Cry For Me Argentina
Patti LuPone with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Rob Fisher singing Don’t Cry For Me Argentina from the musical “Evita” music by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Tim Rice.
Everything’s Coming Up Roses
Patti LuPone with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Rob Fisher singing Everything’s Coming Up Roses from the musical “Gypsy”
As Long As He Needs Me
Patti LuPone with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Rob Fisher singing As Long As He Needs Me from the musical “Oliver!”
“Woe unto ye who deprive La LuPone of applause.” - Ben Brantley
At this stage in her career, Patti LuPone isn’t so much an actress or a singer, as she is a religion. Come followers, and worship at the altar of The Great LuPone…just don’t take any pictures.
On Friday night, the believers (obnoxious gay guys and the women who love them) came, sure enough, for reasons that seemed to exist outside the realm of hearing great American music delivered by an exceptional artist. For those of us that are mere fans of Ms. LuPone, the evening was a disappointing fizzle, but that hardly seemed to matter to the people sitting around me. There were thunderous ovations even before the music, or Ms. LuPone, began.
The evening really belonged to the magnificent Rob Fisher (the man responsible for turning “Encores!” into the Met Orchestra) conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra with verve and sweeping vigor. It was wonderful to have this first-rate orchestra playing great American standards under the baton of a man who knows this music inside and out.
The first half of the everything was strictly instrumental. Mr. Fisher started with the overture to “Funny Girl” then various selections from “Sweeney Todd” and “West Side Story.” The arrangements were decidedly tasteful with Mr. Fisher emphasizing the pungent chromaticism in Stephen Sondheim’s and Leonard Bernstein’s scores without milking any of the lyricism for bombast or sentimentality. The “West Side Story” selections were especially thrilling. Having seen the disappointing revival on Broadway a few seasons ago, I began to think that the score to “West Side Story” could almost be a symphony or a tone poem.
Finally, it was time for all the believers to pray at The Church of Latter-day Patti. She came out in a full blaze of glory, basking in the thunderous ovations which seemed almost perfunctory. I knew the evening’s running time would be extended by, at least, an hour to accommodate all the erroneous applause. In addition, I should have brought earplugs to muffle the shrill gay squawks that were all too omnipresent throughout the performance. At times, it felt like I was standing in the center of an “I Love Patti More!” competition, with every member of the audience proving how much louder and annoying they could be than the person sitting next to them.
Anyway, LuPone seemed happy to be onstage and the audience was happy to have her there. She looked relaxed and very glamorous in a beautiful, glittering black pants-suit with a flattering chiffon robe. She started the evening off appropriately with, “Broadway” from “Gypsy,” taking momentary asides to converse with the audience and talk about what a “dream come true” it was to perform at Symphony Hall…um. okay?
Then she set the tone for the rest of the evening by exclaiming, “I’m going to sing every song from every role I EVER wanted to play! Or could have played, would’ve played, should’ve played…or did play.” the audience chuckled. She continued, “Now, some of the roles I did play, I didn’t want to play. And some of the roles I played I guess I shouldn’t have played according to the New York Times!” the percussionist provided a “ba-dum ching!” and the audience roared. It was these kinds of cutesy, self-referential anecdotes that peppered the evening, gave me hives and made the audience giddy with “Glee” that they could barely contain.
While she’s clearly at home onstage these days, I could have done without the snippets of her life story and her insider jokes. While not stilted or uncomfortable, it all came off as highly manufactured and insincere. It was when she sang that the evening veered back on course but, in that department, it wasn’t exactly a home-run either.
The program was pretty much what I suspected it would be. A smattering of Broadway favorites, a couple of unknown pieces, and the signature songs she’s become indelibly linked to and expected to sing these days.
The high points included a surprisingly straightforward version of “An English Teacher” form “Bye Bye Birdie,” a beautifully introspective rendition of “A Quiet Thing” from “Flora the Red Menace” and ”The Way You Look Tonight” with an Andrews Sisters style rearrangement where she used a disposable camera to take pictures of the audience…haha…eh. Another welcome surprise was a song called “Meadowlark” from “The Baker’s Wife.”
I had mixed feelings about “Don’t Rain On My Parade” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” While she certainly has the chords to sing a song like “Parade” her slushy diction and lack of any personal stamp left me wondering why she would want to sing this song. It’s baffling when you consider what an idiosyncratic performer she is. Like the rest of the world, I was in love with her Mama Rose back in 2008, but “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” left me cold and nostalgic for the when I’d seen it performed on Broadway. Stripped of it’s context, the song seemed like just another diva showpiece. The two songs might have just as well been titled “Don’t Rain On Patti’s Parade” and “Everything’s Coming Up Patti.”
Of course there was “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” which gave me dyspepsia, but sent the audience into wild, rabid ecstasy. All she had to do was lift her arms, and hoards of screams, hoots, cheers and mouth-foaming began. I’m just so sick of this song it’s hard to be objective about it, but she clearly gave the people what they wanted and that was all that mattered.
The two glaring missteps of the evening were “A Wonderful Guy” set to a bossa nova arrangement and “Never Never Land” which just simply wasn’t right for her voice. Her diction was very muddled during “A Wonderful Guy” and she was rhythmically imprecise so much as to throw off the players and the conductor. There was no emotional investment which is a death sentence for this song. “Never Never Land,” the sweet lyrical ballad from “Peter Pan,” was played sumptuously by the orchestra, but LuPone shouted the phrases with a stridency of tone as to make the selection seem almost ironic…or misguided.
Her voice, over all, was in fine shape (perhaps a tad thin these days). But past criticisms of her singing remain valid - the occasional tendency to slide off pitch, mushy diction, the over oscillating vibrato - the only thing that bothers me is her problem with phrasing. In musical theater, words are paramount. If you can’t understand the text, the listener becomes disengaged. The abysmal amplification didn’t help matters.
In the end, this is a concert about Patti LuPone and anyone who attends should expect as much. I guess I just prefer her in a musical inhabiting a character. She’s given me some of my most memorable nights at the theater both in “Sweeney Todd” and “Gypsy.” It all depends on where you stand as a fan of hers. If you’re interested in Patti LuPone: go see her in concert. If you’re interested in Patti LuPone the great singing actress: wait for her to return to Broadway in another knockout role.
NOTE: I’ll be posting audio clips later so you can decide for yourself.
I Don’t Give a Fach will be blogging live tonight at LuPone in concert with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. We bought these tickets on a whim and we’ve never seen LuPone in concert so…we don’t know what to expect. Hopefully, she won’t do a bunch of U2 covers…blegh!
Patti LuPone tonight. Hoping to REALLY piss her off by taking two cellphones. One with a big flash to set or off and another to ring REALLY loud during selected standards…like “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”
Hurricane LuPone sweeps into town on Friday to perform with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. I Don’t Give a Fach will be there to report back with all the gory details. I’m tempted to bring a camera, with a big flash, so I can have my very own YouTube moment.