Comment: Patti LuPone: Don’t Monkey with Broadway

by Lynn on November 20, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person for one performance only at the Meridian Hall, presented by TO Live, Toronto, Ont. Nov. 17, 2023.

Directed and created by Scott Wittman

Music director, Joseph Thalken

Starring: Patti LuPone

It was presented as a concert. It had the trappings of a concert. There was a program that had a picture of Patti LuPone sitting in a chair, sideways, provocative, top hat, and the title was “”Patti LuPone: Don’t Monkey with Broadway.”  That’s why I took time off from my mad theatre going to see this concert. There was a grand piano on the stage. There was a microphone hovering close to where the accompanist would sit.  On the piano was ‘ball’ of bright red roses in a pot. There was a lace (?) covering on the piano that draped down over the side. Very stylish. There was a glass of water on the piano. And a stand microphone.  A concert. But it wasn’t a concert, and that left me miffed when it dawned on me…THIS IS NOT A CONCERT, DAMNIT!!!

It was in fact a MASTERCLASS in how to give a concert by a brilliant artist. Truly astonishing.

Joseph Thalken, the music director/accompanist walked out to applause and screaming from the two people beside me, indicating they knew him and wanted everybody in the place to know they knew him. He sat and got comfortable.

Then with no introduction out walked Patti LuPone. The audience exploded with cheering. She stopped momentarily, as if startled by the reception. I smiled and thought, “Oh come on. You’re not going to tell me you don’t always get that reception as a matter of course! You’re Patti LuPone, for heaven’s sake.” I do like that bit of “what, for me..” reaction staged by director Scott Wittman.

She sang Broadway standards: “They Say That Falling In Love is Wonderful” (Irving Berlin, Annie Get Your Gun), “How Are Things In Glocca Morra (Burton Lane, E.Y. Harburg, Finian’s Rainbow) because, as she said, no one would ever cast her as an Irish lass; “Ya Got Trouble” (Meredith Willson, The Music Man) because no one is going to tell her she can’t sing a song sung by a man in a musical, and it’s her show and she can do what she wants to, and it was wild, breathless and impassioned.

She auditioned for a tour of a musical and sang a song called “Big Spender” (“The minute you walked in the joint/I could see you were a man of distinction, a real big spender/good lookin/so refined/say wouldn’t you like to know what’s goin on in my mind/…..I don’t pop my cork for every guy I see”) (Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields, Sweet Charity). She sang sounding bored, dull, uninvolved. When she finished she said with real self-deprecation, “HOW COULD I NOT KNOW SHE WAS A HOOKER!?”

She sang classics in that strong, pure voice of hers. The lyrics were clear and beautifully interpreted. She served the music and the message. None of these contorted faces one sees with other singers who want you to know how they are spilling their guts to convey the message.  

She had one piano and the accompanist was microphoned and that was it–she was NOT blared out by the piano. Joseph Thalken, her music director and wonderful accompanist was always in synch with her. They always ended together when they were supposed to. He never drowned her out.  

She sang “Somewhere” (Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim West Side Story) a love song but with Patti LuPone and with one gesture, her arms out to the audience, it changed from a love song between a man and a woman, and became a plea for peace and acceptance. My jaw dropped at that simple interpretation.

Time and again she would sing a song that ended softly and not with a roar. That’s daring and one had to shake ones head at the guts of it.   She sang the songs one expected because when you win three Tony’s it is expected: “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” (Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice, Evita).  She put her arms out and raised them in three steps and brought the house down and the music was still playing to the end; “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” (Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, Gypsy). Fierce, desperate, heartbreaking.  

She finished the show to great cheers and roaring and of course an encore was expected. She came back on with a martini glass in her hand.   “Ladies Who Lunch” (Stephen Sondheim, Company) was the fitting encore, ending on that last forceful command “Rise!” She flipped the contents of the martini glass towards the audience–but not really–and the liquid flopped on the stage.

I thought, ok. Good, you are done. But no. She stayed. I couldn’t believe she would over stay her welcome after such a rousing end. But then she sang these lyrics, quiet, gentle, lilting:

Of all the money that e’er I had
I have spent it in good company
Oh and all the harm I’ve ever done
Alas, it was to none but me

And all I’ve done for want of wit
To memory now I can’t recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be to you all

So fill to me the parting glass
And drink a health whate’er befalls
Then gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all

I could not believe that girl. ARE YOU KIDDING???? You are flipping me again!!!!! you are ending with “The Parting Glass” a traditional Scottish song of farewell, often sung in Ireland (one of my favourite songs). Yes, she was ending her show with this gorgeous soft song of farewell. And it was stunning.

Damn it. I expected a concert and I didn’t get it. I got so much more. I got a masterclass in giving a concert from a MASTER. A beautifully arranged, curated selection of songs that meant something to her. The show was full of irreverent humour, wit, grace and true artistry.  I wept all the way to the subway. Brilliant woman.

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