LuPone, who opened 54 Below in June 2012 with her smashingly successful Far Away Places, returned in February with Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda — as in every musical comedy role she "coulda, woulda, shoulda" played. The star now presents a revised version of this act for 12 performances. LuPone rambunctiously roars onstage, more than meeting the expectations of her fans.
As a budding child performer, she tells us, she realized that she could do whatever she wanted onstage, and the audience would smile at her. And so, she adds, in this act, "I can do whatever I want!" Her career includes "some roles I didn't want to play, and some I shouldn't have played, according to the New York Times."
After borrowing "Broadway" from Gypsy — the centerpiece of the "Dainty June and Her Farm Boys" sequence — she launches into two roles she played in high school: Nellie Forbush of South Pacific and Fanny Brice of Funny Girl. Her rendition of "Don't Rain on My Parade" packs an impressive wallop. In her autobiographical narrative, she notes that she used it when she auditioned as a teenager for the chorus of the 1967 national tour of Sweet Charity (reaching the finals, but not getting the role).
She also gives us "You Mustn't Be Discouraged," which Styne, Comden and Green wrote for Carol Burnett in Fade Out - Fade In, which she used when auditioning for the first acting program at Juilliard in 1968. John Houseman was not impressed with her dramatic monologue, telling her, "I don't think that's what Shakespeare had in mind," but he admitted her nonetheless. She also expresses affection for Peter Pan with "Never Never Land."
Turning to the male repertoire, LuPone does a good job with two Alfred Drake songs: "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" and the male version of "So in Love." The most astounding moment of the evening comes with her spitfire version of The Music Man's "Trouble." This number was a whirlwind, and the audience at the performance I attended was so game that many of them sang the chorus part unprompted. There was also plenty of Sondheim on hand. This includes "Anyone Can Whistle," which she never sang (although she has played the other starring role in that musical); two "male" songs from musicals in which she has appeared: "Not While I'm Around" from Sweeney Todd and "Being Alive" from Company; and a highly effective performance — flicking a riding crop — of the showpiece "I Never Do Anything Twice" from the film "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution." Musical director Joseph Thalken does an excellent job accompanying LuPone on the piano. While they had a five-piece combo for Far Away Places, Thalken here provides a show in his own right.
LuPone also favors her fans with performances of songs she indeed introduced, namely "Meadowlark" from The Baker's Wife and "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" from Evita. As an encore, she is at her very best with two David Yazbeck songs. First came a recreation of "Invisible" from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and she ended the evening with "Where is the Sandman?," an especially lovely song that Yazbeck gave her to sing.
54 Below is located at 254 W. 54th Street. Tickets and additional information are available at 54Below.com.
PHOTO ARCHIVE: Patti LuPone's Stage Career... So Far