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Chicago by John Olson

An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin
Cadillac Palace Theatre

Also see John's reviews of Rent and A Separate Peace

Patti LuPon and Mandy Patinkin in Concert
Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin
They both do things that would make a vocal coach cringe, she with her scoops and glissandos and he with his notorious falsetto vibrato, but these qualities have become trademarks and fans could feel robbed if Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin performed without displaying these personal quirks. Not to worry. Patti and Mandy are their distinctive selves in this touring concert making a one-week stop in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace. And, while the two each have a presence that allows them to fill that big house as concert artists, this production reminds us that LuPone and Patinkin are musical actors of the first degree. The concept by Patinkin and musical director Paul Ford, directed by Patinkin, arranges thirty show tunes into mini-song cycles, frequently incorporating dialogue from the musicals in which the songs first appeared, to show the developing relationships of several couples. They play each song for its dramatic as well as musical value. Outside the context of the musicals, we're forced to listen a little more carefully to the songs (all but seven of which were written either by Stephen Sondheim or by Rodgers & Hammerstein) and learn new things about the songs as a result.

The first of the concert's two halves is mostly about coupling. The two open with a forceful duet of Sondheim's "Another Hundred People," from Company before a softly sweet "When" from Evening Primrose shows a couple—apparently an older, more experienced man and a younger woman—in the early stages of a relationship. That relationship develops through dialogue from South Pacific's opening scene and its songs "A Cockeyed Optimist," "Twin Soliloquies" and "Some Enchanted Evening." After the man resolves to "never let her go," (though Patinkin sings an unintelligible vowel on that final high note), the tone shifts to comedy as Patti sings the nervous bride's part in Company's "Getting Married Today." In the midst of that number, Patinkin reassures his bride with "Loving You" from Passion. Amazingly, it works and in a comic sense at that. The audience chuckles at the line "Loving you is not a choice and not much reason to rejoice," and that's a testament to the brilliance of Sondheim's lyric. His ironic observation about the nature of love as unyielding can be viewed either comical or tragic depending on the context. The blending of the romantic and sentimental Rodgers and Hammerstein with the allegedly more nuanced and jaded Sondheim shows a greater commonality of heart between Sondheim and the older team than most would have expected.

A second song cycle follows, beginning with Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer's "I'm Old Fashioned," sung by LuPone. She meets a neighbor who sings "I Have the Room Above Her" by Kern and Hammerstein and he invites her to his room, randily warning her that "Baby, It's Cold Outside" (Mercer and Frank Loesser's Oscar-winning song from Neptune's Daughter). He lectures her on non-conformity with "Everybody Says Don't," from Anyone Can Whistle, and she confirms her attraction to him with the early Kander and Ebb ballad "A Quiet Thing." Their relationship is celebrated in a joyous rendition of "It Takes Two" from Into the Woods. The first half closes out with a delightful set about dancing, starting with Kern's "I Won't Dance." A brief "April in Paris" moves into "April in Fairbanks," from New Faces of 1956, in which the two dance while remaining seated in swivel office chairs, thanks to the clever choreography by Ann Reinking.

The concert's second half takes a more reflective tone. It opens with "Old Folks" from Kander and Ebb's musical about seniors, 70, Girls, 70, setting up the premise that we'll be watching an older couple look back on their lives. Before that arc begins, though, we hear a trademark solo from each of the performers. LuPone leads off with a powerful but irony-free "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from her Tony-award winning performance in Gypsy. Patinkin follows with "Buddy's Blues" from Follies, which he clowned so memorably in the 1985 Lincoln Center concert revival. After these somewhat obligatory solos, they do a set of five songs from the literally backward-looking Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along. This section ends with that show's "Franklin Shepard, Inc.," which doesn't work especially well out of context and its rather bland performance by Patinkin is the concert's weakest and least necessary moment. Patinkin redeems himself immediately thereafter with a solo of "Somewhere That's Green" just before LuPone croons a touching "In Buddy's Eyes."

The final cycle is a condensed version of the bench scene from Carousel, followed by Patinkin's reading of the graduation speech from that show's final scene and a duet of "You'll Never Walk Alone." The two give such a touching and thoughtful reduction of Carousel, with believable and fresh takes on the characters of Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan, that I'd love to see Patinkin direct a full production of it some day.

They wrap up the concert with encores of sorts (they bow, but don't leave the stage after the Carousel set), including the Irving Berlin counterpoint duet "You're Just in Love" and closing for good with 70, Girls, 70's "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup." David Korins' simple but effective set places a multitude of colored ghost lights against a cutout backdrop of changing hues designed by Eric Cornwell.

The evening's a great showcase for the two performers, but thanks to their acting as well as their vocal skills, and to the ingenious concept by Ford (who also accompanies the singers with the help of a bass player) and Patinkin, it's even more of a tribute to the featured songwriters. In its heavy emphasis on Rodgers & Hammerstein and Sondheim, the program honors the arguably finest songwriters of 20th century musical theater. By including a sampling of Kern, Mercer, Loesser and Berlin, they acknowledge a handful of the other important writers of the great American songbook as well. Those who revere these sorts of songs and musicals really ought not to miss this concert.

An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin will play the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, through Sunday, March 7. Tickets available at all Broadway in Chicago box offices, all Ticketmaster retail locations, and online at www.BroadwayinChicago.com. For more information on the tour, visit www.avidtouring.com/attraction.php?id=0004.


Photo: Brigitte LaCombe

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-- John Olson



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