In this ever-changing world that sometimes seems to be spinning out of control, it is comforting to know there is at least one constant—the power and pleasure derived from listening to Patti LuPone belt out Broadway tunes from some of the biggest hits in the musical theatre canon.
Such is the case in the stellar new recording Patti LuPone: Don't Monkey with Broadway, which was recorded live at the John W. Engeman Theater in the town of Northport, Long Island, where the Olivier and two-time Tony Award winner spent her youth. Available on the Broadway Records label, the two-disc set features musical director Joseph Thalken on piano and a special appearance by the Northport High School Tour Choir.
The concerts, presented January 23–24, were a benefit for Northport High School’s Performing Arts Department and served as a tribute to LuPone’s arts education at the school, which included music teacher Esther Scott, who writes in the recording’s liner notes, “Patti LuPone is arguably the most talented student I ever had. During her high school years she sang solos with the concert choir, singing masses of Hayden and Mozart, and premiering a large work for soprano soloist, chorus and orchestra… Having been her teacher from her earliest forays into the performing arts I am beyond proud.”
And, Ms. Scott certainly has reason to be proud. The Broadway favorite, currently raising the roof opposite fellow two-time Tony winner Christine Ebersole in the new musical War Paint, has lost none of her range, and her interpretive abilities have only deepened since she first catapulted to stardom in the original 1979 Broadway production of Evita.
On this new recording, LuPone essentially offers an exhilarating tribute to Broadway, marking a love affair that began when the Long Island native was just a child. The first disc features songs that influenced a young LuPone as well as the tunes that solidified her place among the Broadway greats.
The stage and screen star begins her recital with Cole Porter’s little-heard “Please Don't Monkey with Broadway” and then launches into terrific takes on three songs from musicals that informed her youth: “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” from Bye Bye Birdie, “Happy Talk” from South Pacific, and “Big Spender” from Sweet Charity. The national tour of Charity, LuPone noted, was the first professional production for which she ever auditioned—the then-17-year-old made it to the final callback.
LuPone then scores with a heartfelt version of Hair's “Easy to Be Hard” and dazzles with The Baker's Wife anthem, “Meadowlark”; her voice soars on its climactic phrase, “My beautiful young man and I….” (I've been listening to LuPone sing "Meadowlark" for 30 years, and when her voice opens and that inimitable vibrato takes flight into the stratosphere, the experience is still as exciting as ever.)
The actor, who will be seen in the 2018 gender-switched London revival of Company as Joanne, delivers a particularly affecting reading from Studs Terkel’s Working—a factory worker detailing the monotony and severely harsh conditions at her workplace—before launching into a great take of the James Taylor ballad, “Millworker.” She prettily croons a lovely pairing of two Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart ballads, “I Could Write a Book” and “There Is a Small Hotel.” Spirited renditions of “I'm Just a Girl Who Cain’t Say No” and the tongue-twisting “If” follow.
The first act/disc concludes with songs from each of LuPone’s Tony-winning roles, Rose in Gypsy and Eva Peron in Evita. Listening to the actor's passionate rendition of “Some People” and a particularly gripping “Don't Cry for Me Argentina” once again reminded me why she became, and forever remains, a true star of the musical theatre.
The second half of the concert features one showstopper after another, beginning with two songs originally written for men: The Music Man's “Trouble” and Guys and Dolls' "Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.” Even in an audio recording, one can picture a smiling LuPone as she is joined by the Northport High School Tour Choir in stentorian deliveries of the Meredith Willson and Frank Loesser hits. In fact, a palpable joy permeates the entire evening.
She is equally sensational with one of her signature tunes, “Blow Gabriel Blow” from Cole Porter's Anything Goes.
It must have been the thrill of their lifetime for these young singers to have performed with LuPone, but what's so great about the singing actor is she sounds equally thrilled to have performed with them, joyously exclaiming, "Aren't they great?!"
LuPone brings a gentle warmth to The Robber Bridegroom’s “Sleepy Man” and then tackles four songs from West Side Story, which run the gamut of emotions: a lovely “Something’s Coming” precedes a pairing of “A Boy Like That” and “I Have a Love,” where she has particular fun playing both Anita and Maria; a touching “Somewhere” concludes the tribute to the groundbreaking musical. Three Stephen Sondheim tunes follow, each demonstrating LuPone's versatility as an actor and singer: a belty “Another Hundred People,” a moving “Anyone Can Whistle,” and her stunning take on the Company finale, “Being Alive.”
LuPone delights with a terrific, perhaps definitive reading of “Give My Regards to Broadway” and then delivers a superb “The Ladies Who Lunch,” which mines the song for all its dramatic worth. A lilting version of the Leonard Bernstein-Betty Comden-Adolph Green standard “Some Other Time,” again featuring the Northport High School Tour Choir, ends the evening.
While listening to this concert, I remembered why, even though I hate to fly, I’ve traveled to London twice to see LuPone’s special brand of magic: a heartbreaking Fantine in the original company of Les Misérables and an equally riveting Norma Desmond in the world premiere of Sunset Boulevard. These many years later, she remains an enthralling singing actor, one whose voice is as potent a catalyst of emotion as ever.
(Scott Wittman conceived and directed the evening with musical arrangements by one-man-band Joseph Thalken; the accompanying liner notes, designed by Robbie Rozelle, feature letters, conversations, and rare photos of a young LuPone at Northport.)
Patti LuPone: Don’t Monkey With Broadway is available by visiting BroadwayRecords.com.
Can you name these LuPone tunes?