BWW Reviews: Patti LuPone - 'Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda...Played That Part' at GMU's Arts by George! Benefit

Patti LuPone
Broadway World

By Benjamin Reiser

Who is today's Queen of Broadway? After all, Audra McDonald just chalked up her record-setting sixth Tony. Idina Menzel's belting out all over the world. Barbra Streisand's even planning a new Gypsy film adaptation.

No matter. Patti LuPone hands-down earns the title...and then some. At her Sept. 27 concert at George Mason University's Center for the Arts in Fairfax, it was resoundingly apparent that LuPone (the Tony, Grammy and Olivier Award winner) is, indeed, as the San Francisco Chronicle once put it, "American musical theatre's greatest living star."

LuPone, the actress and singer best known for her stage musicals, appeared as the gala headliner for the ninth annual ARTS by George! event benefiting GMU's College of Visual and Performing Arts. Her concert, titled "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda...Played That Part," took the wildly enthusiastic audience on a journey through songs in all the roles in musicals that she could have played, would have played and should have played, along with those she did play or will be playing.

From the moment she entered from stage right - even before she sang a note - LuPone, 65, commanded the simply adorned stage with her dazzling, larger-than-life presence. Accompanied only by a Steinway piano, she opened the show with "Broadway" from Gypsy, filling the massive auditorium with her distinct signature sound.

She then launched into a repertoire of songs that detailed her life story, connecting them with brief amusing anecdotes between pieces. The first part of the set list included "Don't Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl, "An English Teacher" from Bye Bye Birdie, "A Wonderful Guy" from South Pacific and "Easy to Be Hard" from Hair. As LuPone explained, these were the songs that she dreamed of singing as a young girl in Northport, N.Y.; these were the songs that led to her becoming a member of The Juilliard School Drama Division's first graduating class. It was a matchless experience; seeing LuPone sing these pieces from the Broadway canon with such precision, force and control, but hearing, too, how these songs helped propel her into the powerhouse she is today.

Then came tunes from the Patti LuPone canon. Her dramatic performance of "Everything's Coming Up Roses," sung in Gypsy by Mama Rose, the role for which LuPone won a 2008 Tony, was greeted with thunderous applause. And when she finished her impassioned performance of Evita's epochal "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," the role LuPone originated on Broadway in 1979, the theatre erupted into pandemonium.

During the second half of her show, LuPone performed "I'll Be Seeing You" with GMU's a capella group, Soundcheque. A few seconds into the song, LuPone, who infamously forbids photography at her performances, stopped the music and allowed parents in the audience to take pictures. "This," she clarified emotionally, "is when it's OK to take pictures in the theatre." The musical theatre students in Soundcheque then performed a rendition of "Hello, Dolly!" substituted as "Hello, Patti!" Both LuPone and the audience were in stitches before the group left the stage.

The pinnacle of the evening was arguably LuPone's medley of Sondheim songs, including "Anyone Can Whistle," "I Never Do Anything Twice," Sweeney Todd's "Not While I'm Around," and Company's "Being Alive." Although LuPone cautioned the audience that she "shouldn't" be singing "Being Alive" because she's "not a guy," her compelling performance of the song received perhaps the loudest standing ovation of the evening, equalled only by her riveting interpretation of Company's iconic number "The Ladies Who Lunch," complete with a martini tossed upon the audience. Bernadette Peters may be Sondheim's premier muse, but LuPone has got to be a close second.

For two spellbinding hours, LuPone enthralled the sold-out crowd, swelling seamlessly between loud and delicate, brash and tender. Her versatility speaks to her resplendent expertise and flair, both as a renowned actress and a vocalist who still has plenty of tantalizing roles to tackle and audiences to thrill.

Great Performances at Mason is a program of George Mason University's Center for the Arts, the professional presentation and production arm of the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA). CVPA provides an academic environment in which the arts are explored as individual disciplines and interdisciplinary forms that strengthen one another. The college prepares students for careers as creators, performers, teachers, scholars, arts leaders and arts entrepreneurs. Understanding that an education in the arts is deepened by regular contact with the work of distinguished visiting artists, the Center for the Arts, the professional presentation and production arm of the college, welcomes a variety of professional and world-renowned artists, musicians and actors to its stage. Students have the opportunity to perform, create and exhibit their work in a wide variety of public venues, including a 2,000-seat concert hall. CVPA is home to the Schools of Music, Dance, Art and Theatre, as well as the Computer Game Design, Arts Management and Film and Video Studies programs.

George Mason University is Virginia's largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls more than 33,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility. Mason is also one of the best values in higher education, producing graduates who lead all Virginia schools with highest annual salaries.