Patti LuPone's Far Away Places Transports Audiences to NYC Nightlife Heyday
By Adam Hetrick
New Yorkers are getting their first taste of the new nightlife venue, 54 Below, which opened in an impressive debut this month with an extended concert engagement of two-time Tony Award winner Patti LuPone. Playbill was there.
Behind the hotspot's sleek red door — steps away from Studio 54 on West 54th Street — is a dimly lit staircase that descends into a sumptuous damask-covered room designed to conjure New York's bygone era of speakeasys and chic nightclubs.
Tony Award-winning scenic designer John Lee Beatty and architect Richard Lewis created the inviting, dusky space that is flanked by raised banquettes with a series of long, communal tables in the center where audiences drink, dine and take in the entertainment. Creators of the intimate venue also boast that the furthest seat from the stage is only 23 feet away.
LuPone, who headlined a record-breaking solo show at the now-closed downtown venue Les Mouches during her 1979 run in Evita, is back with a new evening of music, Far Away Places, a travelogue of styles and stories that trace the actress' wanderlust.
The tailored evening, directed by Scott Wittman and written by Jeffrey Richman, is infused with the music of Kurt Weill, lending noirish grit to the glamorous evening. During the 8 PM performance on June 16, LuPone made reference to the legendary disco Studio 54 (one flight up) and the bygone days of a seedy Time Square as she led into a rousing rendition of Weill's "Bilbao Song," the rollicking beer hall number from Happy End. Weill's "Pirate Jenny" and "September Song" are also on the bill of the 16-song set.
Singing at the top of her game, a mix of passion and control, LuPone is backed by a five-piece band, led by musical conductor-pianist-arranger Joseph Thalken. The Gypsy and Evita star steered clear of revisiting her stage roles and signature songs, with the exception of Sweeney Todd's "By the Sea," opting instead for gems by Piaf, Cole Porter and the haunting Johnny Green-Edward Heyman balled "I Cover the Waterfront." The lilting title song is by Alex Kramer and Joan Whitney.
The Tony winner has also been inviting fans to tweet ahead of time which encore they'd like to have her perform; the song changes nightly. During the 8 PM concert on June 16, LuPone dedicated a full-voiced "I Get a Kick Out of You" to a fan.
Before leaving the stage, LuPone also offered the bossa nova tune "Invisible," her stand-out 11-o'clock number from David Yazbeck and Jeffrey Lane's short-lived Broadway musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
LuPone's initial engagement June 5-16 sold out, but fans learned on June 17 that 54 Below had extended Far Away Places one more week, now to June 23.
Check out highlights of LuPone's show below:
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