DIVA TALK: LuPone Soars, Akers Sings Standards and Snoopy! Delights

By Andrew Gans
16 Apr 2004

Patti LuPone
Patti LuPone

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Patti LuPone

What a rare treat to hear Tony and Olivier Award winner Patti LuPone perform in the intimate confines of a New York cabaret. LuPone, whose career has been marked by triumphant performances on theatrical stages and in concert halls throughout the world, is currently returning to the cabaret stage for the first time in over two decades.

LuPone has entitled her new show at Feinstein's at the Regency The Lady with a Torch, yet it is anything but your usual presentation of torch songs. In a fast-paced, 60-minute evening, LuPone demonstrates that she is not only a tremendous actress and singer but also a terrific entertainer. She has fun with her audience, and she clearly loves the fact that they are within arms reach. She sits on a few laps, sings directly into the audience's eyes and, most importantly, makes you feel.

With gifted pianist Dick Gallagher at the piano, LuPone presents an especially eclectic array of torch songs. However, the songs are not presented in the typical my-man-done-me wrong-and-now-I'm gonna-slit-my-wrists fashion. In LuPone's hands, the approach is more my-man-done-me-wrong-and-now-I'm- gonna-slit-his-wrists! And, who would expect anything less from the fiery diva? LuPone is a red-blooded, emotional American gal, who draws on her Sicilian heritage to offer one of the most enjoyable cabaret evenings in recent memory.



Relating that her grandmother shot dead her cheating grandfather, LuPone goes on to deliver a thrillingly belty version of "Who's Sorry Now?" She also scored with a tough-as-nails version of that great Johnny Mercer revenge song, "I Wanna Be Around." Sure, there are more typical torch presentations — including touching versions of Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn's "I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry" and Willard Robison and Larry Conley's little-heard "A Cottage for Sale" — and she also offers the best version of Harold Arlen's "Ill Wind" I've heard. In fact, you'll be amazed at the power of LuPone's voice. Twenty-five years after she made her name in the title role of Evita, LuPone's vocals sound as good as ever. She boasts a focused belt that she places and then lets reverberate, filling the room with a burst of sound; she clearly enjoys the power of her sound, and so does the riveted audience. Other highlights: Billy Barnes' "Something Cool," a moving "The Other Woman" and a sensational version of the Gershwins' "The Man I Love" that closes the show. LuPone returned to rapturous applause from the sold-out crowd to deliver two of her recent Can-Can show-stoppers, "C'est Magnifique" and "I Love Paris."

Trust me, you don't want to miss this rare chance to see one of the theatre's finest in such a cozy setting — La LuPone is only holding fort at Feinstein's through next Saturday, April 24.

[Patti LuPone plays Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8:30 PM with late shows on Friday and Saturdays at 11 PM. There is a $60 cover charge and a $30 minimum. Feinstein's at the Regency is located in Manhattan at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street. Call (212) 339-4095 for reservations.]

SNOOPY!

Kids of all ages reveled in the talents onstage during Monday night's benefit performance of Snoopy! for the Pied Piper Children's Theatre of New York City. The one-night-only event, featuring simple and effective direction by up-n-comer Ben Rimalower, boasted an impressive array of theatrical talent with musical direction by Seth Rudetsky.

Thoroughly Modern Millie's Christian Borle, whose wide-eyed onstage clowning reminds me of a male version of a young Carol Burnett, was perfectly cast in the title role. His manic energy, nimble footwork, comic timing and strong voice brought the role of the lovable, mischievous beagle to full canine life. Whether he was singing tunes like "Daisy Hill," embodying the stories of the "Great Writer" or reciting one-liners like "Who wants to eat dog food—it tastes like its sounds," Borle had the sold-out crowd in the palm of his hand (paw?).

However, it wasn't only Borle who triumphed; each of the actors had his or her moment in the spotlight. Tony Award winner Sutton Foster, who also co-produced the evening, managed to be comical and touching, often at the same moment. As Peppermint Patty, she scored in her two solos, her clear, powerful voice fully embracing "Hurry Up Face" in the show's first half and the lovely "Poor Sweet Baby" in the second. Avenue Q's Ann Harada was also dead-on as know-it-all psychiatrist-wannabe Lucy, once again displaying her innate comic sensibilities and her perfectly controlled Broadway belt in such numbers as "Dime a Dozen." Jennifer Cody made all her onstage moments as little Sally Brown count with her overflow of sass and spunk, and six-year-old McKinny Danger-James was adorable in her non-speaking role as Snoopy's sidekick Woodstock.

Little Shop's Hunter Foster and Bat Boy's Deven May also charmed as, respectively, the blanket-toting Linus and the forlorn Charlie Brown. "Why does a person own a dog, Linus?" asked May's Charlie Brown. "For security I guess — for the security of knowing there's at least one creature in the world that likes you," answered Foster's Linus. "But what if that creature walks off and leaves you?" "You don't let him leave you, Charlie Brown. You tie him up or lock him in the garage. You just don't understand security, Charlie Brown."

With music by Larry Grossman, lyrics by Hal Hackady and a book by Warren Lockhart, Arthur Whitelaw and Michael L. Grace, Snoopy! certainly isn't one of the all-time great musicals, yet it does have its moments, especially with this winning cast. Other highlights of the concert included Hunter Foster's all-night "Vigil" for the Great Pumpkin; Deven May's tender "Where Did That Little Dog Go?"; the elementary school-set "Edgar Allen Poe"; the group numbers "Clouds" and "When Do the Good Times Start?"; and the moving finale, "Just One Person."

James De Forte's choreography had a sense of merriment, and I was particularly touched by director Rimalower's staging of the opening and closing sequences, which featured members of the Pied Piper Children's Theatre joining the actors onstage. Overall, a joyful evening of terrific performances, which raised over $70,000 for the worthy organization.

Karen Akers

I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed when I first learned that Karen Akers was planning to perform an all-standards evening during what has become her annual stint at the Algonquin's Oak Room. Not that I don't enjoy hearing a standard or two or that Akers doesn't do them well, but what I most enjoy about cabaret is the chance to hear new songs or tunes that I might not have encountered elsewhere. And, in the two decades that I have been enjoying Akers' live performances, her repertoire has introduced me to the songs of Craig Carnelia, Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf and Janis Ian while she also reimagined the works of Billy Joel and James Taylor to fit her unique style.

That said, however, I needn't have worried. Akers' new program, Time After Time, is far from a standard standards evening. Not only are there offerings in English, French and Italian, but Akers has unearthed a few "standards" I'd never heard before, including Bart Howard's "You Are Not My First Love" and Charles Trenet's "I Wish You Love," which features a lyric in French and English.

The stunning chanteuse began her program with a playful version of Frank Loesser's "If I Were a Bell" that included a final verse penned by the singer that allowed her to introduce her terrific musical director and accompanist, Don Rebic, in song. She followed with a seamless pairing of "Low & Lazy" and "I'm Beginning to See the Light" before launching into a gorgeous reading of "How Long Has This Been Going On?" that featured a verse I'd never before heard. The aforementioned "You Are Not My First Love" preceded one of the evening's highlights, the moving Kurt Weill-Maxwell Anderson Knickerbocker Holiday ballad "It Never Was You." Akers' rich, velvety tones combined with Anderson's lyrics created a haunting portrait of yearning for love.

Akers had great fun with Johnny Burke and Jimmy van Heusen's "Personality" before admitting "I'm Old Fashioned." She then bookended Jule Styne's "I Fall in Love too Easily" with the Rodgers and Hart classic "Falling in Love with Love," which had just the right amounts of anger and despair. Other highlights included a gorgeous version — in Italian — of "Unchained Melody" and the little-heard comic ditty "Comes Love."

And, noting that Stephen Sondheim has often said that he was influenced by the work of Oscar Hammerstein, the former Nine star performed a passionate medley of Sondheim's Passion anthem, "Loving You," and the great torch song from Kern and Hammerstein's Sweet Adeline, "Why Was I Born?" The sense of longing was palpable. She also scored later in the show with another Stephen Sondheim masterpiece, "Send in the Clowns."

Akers concluded her show with Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne's "Time After Time" before returning for an especially belty version of the Piaf classic, "Hymne A L'Amour" ("If You Love Me").

Akers will continue her evening of standards through May 15. Though you may not be introduced to any brand-new tunes, it's a wonderful opportunity to get reacquainted with some great old friends.

[Karen Akers plays Tuesday-Thursday evenings at 9 PM with late shows on Fridays and Saturdays at 11:30 PM. There is a $50 cover charge for all shows as well as a $50 (Thursday, Friday and Saturdays at 9 PM) or $20 (all other performances) minimum. The Algonquin Hotel is located in Manhattan at 59 West 44th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Call (212) 419 9331 for reservations.]

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