Review: PATTI LUPONE: A LIFE IN NOTES at Kennedy Center

Patti LuPone is an exceptional talent that continually exceeds expectations.

By: May. 20, 2024
Review: PATTI LUPONE: A LIFE IN NOTES at Kennedy Center
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The triple -threat talent of the charismatic performer Patti LuPone was on full display at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Friday evening---and, oh! What a night it was! A capacity crowd of what was obviously a devoted (and almost fanatical fan base) tuned out to see a glorious two hours of songs ---which were sung with sheer show -biz brio by the resonant mezzo-soprano of Ms. LuPone.

Conceived and directed by Scott Wittman, the concert gave an autobiographical thrust to differing segments of Ms. LuPone’s life and career in over thirty-five songs encompassing two acts. Writer Jeffrey Richman must have worked closely with Ms. LuPone on this project/concert since various stages of Ms. LuPone’s life were entwined with the stage patter between many of the songs. The concert title made for an interesting concept-- “Life in Notes” refers to musical notes, notes from friends/family and notes from her directors while she does a show. Ms. LuPone often referred to touchstones in her life throughout the concert.

Ms. LuPone was accompanied on piano by music director and music arranger Joseph Thalken (and he would occasionally do wonderful background vocals) and she was accompanied by stellar string instrumentalist (guitar, violin, mandolin, etc.) Brad Phillips. Both musicians were superb. Ms. LuPone’s rigorous acting training shone with vivid reality as she interpreted each song that she sang like a three -act play, drenched with characterization, mood and dramatic or comedic texture.

The range of songs in the concert consisted of contemporary/pop, classic standards and as her signature show tune standards.

As she entered the Concert Hall in a stunning tailored black pantsuit ensemble, the lively and witty song “Come on-a My House” was sung with a pleasing verve and colorful dialect by Ms. LuPone. This traditional novelty song that was made famous by Rosemary Clooney, seems made uniquely for LuPone in this era as she delivered each word with a singular dryly comic feel.

Ms. LuPone regaled the crowd with stories of her teenage years growing up and adoring Tommy Kirk and Troy Donahue. She then entertained the crowd with a group of songs celebrating teen angst and teen love such as “Summertime, Summertime” (bouncy and peppy), “Ebb Tide” (you could feel the tide rushing in), “Teen Angel” (teen tragedy) and “Town Without Pity” (teenage victimization).

Ms. LuPone proceeded to sing a knockout rendition of the Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim show tune classic “Some People” from her Tony-Award winning role in Gypsy. Ms. LuPone built the song up to its soaring finale with deeply etched delineation and character.

The Burt Bacharach and Hal David modern classic “Alfie” was a standout. Ms. LuPone sang with all the poignant yet pointed romantic reflective observation required for this song about growing towards full compassion and maturity. (The sophisticated mixture of melody and lyrics in this song have compelled me to place it in my tier of “top five greatest songs” ever written !)

Ms. LuPone talked of her several summers spent acting with the famous Acting Company (founded by John Houseman and Margot Harley) in Saratoga Springs, New York –she made several amusing remarks about sharing the artistic atmosphere in Saratoga with the New York City Ballet (who still have an artistic residency there). Ms. LuPone also talked about the thrill of seeing Balanchine and Jerome Robbins walking around the area. Ms. LuPone mentioned her political and social consciousness growing during this period, and she launched into a very alternately charming and disarming song entitled “Saratoga Summer Song”. This song celebrated abandon, happy hours of carefree fun and a sense of camaraderie which Ms. LuPone captured in a rendition that was nostalgic and affectionate.

The classic torch song “The Man That Got Away” (lyrics by Ira Gershwin, music by Harold Arlen) was delivered with fiery passion and superb vocal control by Ms. LuPone.

Ms. LuPone returned to the stage to sustained applause for Act Two of her concert wearing a gorgeous silver gown with a flowing cape that certainly fit the mood of many of her signature show tunes.

Ms. LuPone’s Tony Award-winning role in the smash hit Broadway musical Evita was represented by her reprising her triumphant and dramatically theatrical rendition of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”  Ms. LuPone sang with a resonant and thrilling clarity.

The despairing and anguished travails of the character Fantine from Les Misérables were impeccably portrayed by Ms. LuPone in the searing and heartbreaking “I Dreamed a Dream”. (Ms. LuPone portrayed the role of Fantine in the West End). The increasing intensity of each line of this song was sustained with depth and urgency by Ms. LuPone and she moved me to tears with her final line: “Now life has killed the dream I dreamed ….”.

The now iconic Stephen Sondheim classic “Ladies Who Lunch” from Company was ---as expected ---delivered with all the emotional and trenchant depth and the dry “seen it all” wit of the jaded character initially created by Elaine Stritch. In this Tony Award -winning portrayal, Ms. LuPone etched a more variegated character who would occasionally retort or make a sarcastic toast (rather than singing every single line with the same volume). I have seen countless other portrayals of this character including Lynn Redgrave and Debra Monk, but Ms. LuPone etched, to my mind, the most complex interpretation. Ms. LuPone’s timing of this classic song and acting throughout made me believe in the character’s ability to truly see the hypocrisy beyond the alcohol’s influence.

The brilliance of Cole Porter was on display as Ms. LuPone sang the scintillating and verbally intricate “Anything Goes” from the Musical of the same name (Ms. LuPone had a remarkably successful run as Reno Sweeney in this show on Broadway). Ms. LuPone then sang the melancholy Porter song “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” and she dedicated it to all those friends and associates that she had lost in the battle against AIDS amidst so much indifference.

This amazing concert ended with much applause and an encore which included a reflective and mesmerizing rendition of John Lennon’s “In My Life” contrasted with the hearty and rousing reprise of the beloved song “Those Were the Days”.

As this innovative concert proved, Patti LuPone is an exceptional talent that continually exceeds expectations.

Running Time: Two Hours with one fifteen minute intermission.

Patti LuPone: A Life in Notes was presented on May 17, 2024, at 8pm at the Kennedy Center located at 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, D.C., 20056.

Photo Credit: Patti LuPone. Photo by Douglas Friedman.




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