Patti LuPone kicks off Music Worcester season with Broadway pizzazz

Patti LuPone
The Worcester Telegram

Music Worcester launched its 158th season Tuesday night with risk-taking gusto. Executive Director Adrien Finlay opted out of the predictable classical music opening and instead slotted in lone soloist Patti LuPone, arch diva of Broadway musicals, who expectedly belted out (accompanied by pianist Joseph Thalken) most of the songs that made her legendary reputation, and, unexpectedly, added others that she said were her favorites irrespective of any connection to her career.

From the opening number and title of the show “Don’t Monkey with Broadway,” LuPone flashed dazzling professionalism, pouring complex lyrics out with machine-gun rapidity and the enchanted audience roaring back thunderous approval.

The opening one-hour set was threaded with LuPone’s memories of her early, abortive career, recounting the shows that flopped or were canceled for financial reasons, and lamenting changes in New York’s Broadway scene — “What is Toys R Us doing in Times Square?” — as well as an occasional topical observation: “President Trump, Holy (expletive)!” Her narrative turned out to be a mini history of Broadway’s musicals, tapping well-known songs from each: “Happy Talk” from "South Pacific," “Big Spender” from "Sweet Charity," a spoken memory from the never-staged version of Studs Terkel’s "Working." Then Jule Styne’s super hits: “Goodbye Joe” and “Some People,” leading to the show-stopping first hour’s finale, LuPone’s signature hit, “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” from "Evita." There was reverent silence as LuPone launched into the song and stunned, overwhelming ovation at the end. LuPone’s articulation and phrasing, her meticulously on-target gestures, were, as concert-goer Susan Black noted, “absolutely perfect.”
Apparently in the second half LuPone would get a very full backup. And sure enough, the second hour set began with the “You Got Trouble in River City — Pool!” from "The Music Man" with LuPone improbably taking up the Robert Preston role barking out directives to the chorus, who instantly echo-barked back.

LuPone is such a consummate professional, so deeply in tune with her particular version of songs that she can play with alterations magically, and it was clear the chorus was scrambling to keep up, and equally clear the singers were having a blast doing so. There followed “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” and then again improbably an amazingly deft version of “Sleepy Man,” from the seldom staged “The Robber Bridegroom.”

Then LuPone turned to what she said was her favorite musical, "West Side Story," spinning out “Stick to Your Own Kind,” and inevitably “Somewhere.” Next she turned to Sondheim’s lyrics that regularly give even the most accomplished singers fits, faultlessly articulating “A City of Strangers” and “Being Alive,” drawing enormous ovations from the audience.

LuPone capped off the effort with a resounding finale of “Give My Regards to Broadway,” but then returned upon audience, standing, stomping demand for an encore of, most amazingly, and captivatingly, “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch,” followed by “Some Other Time,” done a cappella, with LuPone unmiked, posing problems for the large and distant chorus to keep close with LuPone’s sweet, hushed tones — a problem Thalken ingeniously solved by feeding a bit of the piano line to the chorus via the monitors.

At table 23 were David Rotman and Barbara Guertin, herself a well-known actress and singer, both in town to work on their film about Worcester’s Robert Goddard, father of American rocketry. Guertin observed, “You know I’ve attended every one of Patti LuPone’s shows from the earliest till right now, and she absolutely has lost nothing over her long career. Her phrasing, her tone, her use of her acting training in John Houseman’s studio at Juilliard, enables her to put these songs over like nobody else. She’s an amazing superstar.”

To which one can only say, “Amen!”
Read the rest of the review here