Monday, November 21, 2011

Review: An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin

An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, the limited engagement concert featuring the two Tony-winning Broadway legends, is a difficult show to review.  The pair has stated their intention was to create a show that breaks away from the “he sings, she sings” mold often utilized by such ventures, and in that, Evening succeeds.  But while viewing the show, especially the problematic first act, it’s hard not to wish for something a little closer to that tried and true format.

LuPone and Patinkin perform the entire evening in character, or possibly characters, as there is never a distinct break between the various segments.  There is no between song banter or fourth-wall breaking, although there are several scenes interspersed among the 35 songs which make up the concert’s two acts.  This requires the audience to provide a great deal of the songs’ context, and also ends up distancing the pair from the audience.  If you’re going to spend An Evening with someone, it would be nice if you left feeling like you’d gotten to know them, especially if they have famously outsized personalities like LuPone and Patinkin.

Both actors are in fine form vocally, although their particular vocal quirks seem to be more pronounced than in the past.  They sing plenty of Sondheim, which is to be expected, but also a surprisingly large amount of Rodgers and Hammerstein.  Come prepared to see condensed versions of the entirety of Carousel and South Pacific, as the pair performs all the standards from both shows and a fair amount of the book scenes which connect them. 

After a first act dominated by medleys and truncated songs (LuPone performs just enough of “Getting Married Today” from Sondheim’s Company to make you want to see the whole thing, and Patinkin pulls a similar trick with “Loving You” from Passion), you would be forgiven for feeling a bit disappointed.  But then Act II rolls around, and is so thoroughly enjoyable that it almost succeeds in washing the first half’s bad taste out of your mouth.  Ironically, it adheres much closer to the traditional “he sings, she sings” format, and is stronger for it.

Act II contains all the material you were likely hoping for when the show began, with the performers recreating their greatest career triumphs.  LuPone starts things off with a rousing rendition of “Some People” from her Tony-winning work in Gypsy, followed by a strong if somewhat manic rendition of Follies’ “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues” by Patinkin.

And then the pair gets to the show that catapulted each of them to fame (and respective Tony Awards).  After a welcome breaking of the fourth wall to remind the audience they met and became friends doing a little skit called Evita, each actor reprises one of their iconic songs from that show.  Patinkin offers up a bone-rattling performance of “Oh What a Circus,” showcasing his best vocals and acting moments of the entire night.  After his well-deserved standing ovation, LuPone brings the house down with her searing “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.”  Watching these two performances reminds everyone that these two masters earned their fame through sheer talent, and reiterates the high standards the upcoming Evita revival will need to meet.

While playing Rose in Gypsy, LuPone sang “you either got it, or you ain’t.”  Despite some missteps along the way, LuPone and Patinkin have most certainly got it, and they are proving it with this concert.  Fans of either performer owe it to themselves to catch this Evening, and those who have not had the pleasure of seeing these two legends onstage should make the effort to see them now.  After all, better late than never.

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