Patti LuPone – The Kimmel Center – Philadelphia, PA – June 9, 2019
Legendary Broadway diva Patti LuPone took the stage at Verizon Hall at Kimmel Center for a rare afternoon concert – I guess Patti wanted to be sure to watch the Tony Awards later that night – with her latest one-woman show Don’t Monkey with Broadway. Well, not completely one-woman, she was accompanied throughout the show by stunning pianist Joseph Thalken and the local choral group Brotherly Love – made up of members of the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus – backed her on several songs in the second act.
It became a guided tour of the Great White Way from someone who really knows the terrain. LuPone has been touring with this show on and off for a few years now, and it should be catnip for Broadway fans. The spectacularly talented singer discussed her life and career between doing standards and obscurities from the songbooks of such legendary composers as Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Jule Styne, Stephen Schwartz, Charles Strouse, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin.
As spectacular as the singing was – and you know you’re going to be blown away vocally when watching Patti LuPone – much of the fun was simply listening to the diva talk. She discussed her training, her career, her love of New York, her feelings about the current state of Broadway, and modern life, and she was never less than charming and funny in her opinions.
Looking back on her earliest days as part of the first dramatic class in Juilliard with “Houseman” (as she lovingly referred to actor/acting teacher John Houseman, star of The Paper Chase and other films), she brought us back to a pre-stardom LuPone. She explained how she was looking to be a dramatic actress. The group didn’t even do any musicals until Houseman recognized that some people in the class (which also included Kevin Kline and David Ogden Stiers) could actually sing. Even then, the musical choices were rather questionable. (She laughingly promised not to sing anything from their first musical, an obscure and highly dry-sounding project.)
The opening tune – which gave this show its title – showed the audience what they were up for. She performed a minorly obscure Cole Porter title called “Please Don’t Monkey with Broadway,” which is about the sanctity of the famous theatrical district. The rest of the area can fall to pieces, but please don’t monkey with Broadway. LuPone stopped and started in the middle of the song to bring it up to date (it was originally from the Fred Astaire film Broadway Melody of 1940). Therefore, she discussed current New York mores like gentrification and superstores, and naked cowgirls performing outside of giant kid’s toy stores on Times Square. (“Why is there a toy store on Times Square?” she asked puckishly.) And, of course, she took a quick swipe at Trump.
From there on, she took us through a series of songs which were important in her life – explaining her connections to the tunes, whether as a performer or as a fan. She showed her amazing dexterity as a singer, seemingly effortlessly tossing off such tongue-twisters as the infamously verbose “Ya Got Trouble” from The Music Man, and then toning things down significantly for the sweet and sadly mostly forgotten “Sleepy Man” from The Robber Bridegroom.
She closed the opening act in the way that befits a diva, doing a show-stopping version of perhaps her best known song, “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” from Evita (her breakthrough was in the original Broadway cast of that show), and then on the final notes the theater lights went to black.
The second act was more of an overview of some of her favorite standards. She did a mini set of three songs from her self-described “favorite musical,” West Side Story. Particularly fun was a version of “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love” in which LuPone acted both roles in the duet, Anita and Maria, simply by shifting her gaze and her manner.
Then she continued with four more Stephen Sondheim songs (Sondheim wrote the lyrics to the West Side Story tunes but did music and lyrics for all the others), including the jaw-dropper “Being Alive” from Company, which LuPone just finished playing in London a few weeks before the show. (One of my companions at this show was also lucky enough to see her final performance of that play in London.)
Don’t Monkey with Broadway was a smart, sweet and funny look at theatrical history with one of the great singers to come from modern stage.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2019 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 10, 2019.
Photo © 2019. Courtesy of The Kimmel Center.