An astonishing collection of biographical songs from a diva's diva!

By: Mar. 23, 2024
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I have never seen an audience so enthusiastic for a performer. Collective gasps, cheers, and two young twentysomethings screaming as if Madonna, Lady Gaga, and Beyonce all three showed up. They threw their hands in the air and yelled, “WERK MAMA!” People called out songs they wanted to hear and begged the performer to play them. People dressed up, wore elaborate hats, and stood on their feet after every song. Taylor Swift? Nope. It was a Broadway diva of the highest order. Patti LuPone made Houston the third stop in her current touring show, "A Life In Notes.” She was brought in by the BEYOND BROADWAY series to the Hobby Center. The performance is a “musical memoir” of songs that Patti refers to as touchstones of her life. It is an interesting mix of pop, early 50s rock, standards, and a couple of Broadway barn burners that Patti LuPone is legally obligated to sing. In between the songs, Patti talks about her life and what each tune means. No trick lighting, no sound alteration, no auto-tune, no lip-syncing. It is simply a well-dressed seventy-something woman with a piano and a multi-instrumentalist accompanying her, singing live for nearly two hours. And I have to say, the legs still look really great! 

Patti LuPone is a diva’s diva with a long history and a body of work that would astonish any sensible person. Patti graduated from Julliard in 1972 and was the original Eva Peron for Andrew Lloyd Weber’s EVITA. She portrayed Fantine in London’s West End for the world premiere of LES MISERABLES. She was the original Norma Desmond in Weber’s musical adaptation of SUNSET BOULEVARD. Lupone has reinvented several characters from Sondheim shows for Broadway and managed to have an on-screen television revival with Ryan Murphy, who has used her for many projects such as POSE, AMERICAN HORROR STORY, and HOLLYWOODLAND. She is the hardest-working actress in show business and somehow only seems to get better and better as she goes. 

I have to admit I was skeptical coming in. After this long career, could she grab the magic again? I grew up listening to Patti LuPone (she would be in MY life of notes!), and I wore out any recording where she performed a cabaret-style show featuring a collection of songs she chose. Patti knows how to tell a story in a song and how to make you feel the emotions of every word. If you are ever wondering, just look up her recording of “Meadowlark” sometime. It’s a song from a failed musical she worked on called THE BAKER’S WIFE. She makes magic with it. I always wished I could sing with even a fraction of the emotional power Lupone possesses. Even now, later in life, she knows her instrument well. She can still belt; she can still make you cry. She obviously trains still, as hard as ever. It’s a little bit of a different experience hearing her at this point in life, but she knows how to adapt and adjust for any changes. 

At the top of the show, programs were not handed out, so the audience had no idea of the songs Patti LuPone was going to perform for “A Life in Notes.” Smart move! I can tell you there is no “Meadowlark,” so save your frantic pleas for that one. However, Patti and her music director, Joseph Thalken, have perfectly honed a surprising collection of diverse songs. She even pulls out a Judy Garland standard that everyone gasped at the start. Hearing the twists and turns as she goes through the set with some real surprises for a Broadway gal is so fun. Lupone has always known how to merge pop culture with her theatrical training, and she can craft a story around any song she chooses. And that is why we come, to hear the storyteller tell her tale. 

If you get a chance to catch Patti LuPone in “A Life in Notes,” it is well worth seizing the opportunity. The Hobby Center’s Beyond Broadway series has brought in Renee Elise Goldsberry, Alan Cumming, and now Patti LuPone. In its first year, it has allowed Houston audiences to see extraordinary artists doing far more than just appearing in a role or part. You walk away from each of these feeling like you know a person, and Patti LuPone is one to cherish finding out about. What a wonderful gift to give. 

Up next for the BEYOND BROADWAY series at the Hobby Center are The Barricade Boys, who will be performing in Zilka Hall on June 6th and 7th. They are four male singers from London’s West End who do a show that features them singing and dancing to popular Broadway songs as well as classic pop hits. You can follow the link below to find out more about what is happening at the Hobby Center and purchase tickets.

Photo provided by Douglas Friedman.