The Siegel Column
Patti LuPone at 54 Below, Harvey at Studio 54, and 3c at The Rattlestick

Patti LuPone: Far Away Places at 54 Below

We begin with what can arguably be called one of the greatest nightclub performances of the early 21st century. Patti LuPone's new show, which opened the brand new 54 Below (more on that later), is a stunning display of vocal prowess, showmanship, and theatrical acumen. Her show is called Far Away Places, the theme being the distant and exotic places she's been throughout her storied career, but there is nothing "far away" in her spot-on performance; she is extraordinarily present during every song she sings. It might be fair to say that this show is a culmination of a lifetime's worth of experience—in fact she is at the peak of her theatrical wisdom, which she then combines with her thrilling voice, a voice which, remarkably, has not diminished with time. Simply put, when she belts, you can almost feel the entire theater district throb along with her.

She performs a great deal of Kurt Weill in her show, putting her own stamp on songs like "Bilbao," "Pirate Jenny," and "September Song." A clever comedienne, she has great fun with a send-up of Edith Piaf, but her ace card is, and always will be, her passionate, open-throated, and fully acted performances of songs like "Gypsy in My Soul," "The Ladies Who Lunch" (a surprise encore performance) and "Nightlife."

The truth is, by the time most icons earn their status, we love them for what they used to be. In the case of Patti LuPone and her show at 54 Below, you will love her (if you don't already) for exactly who she is and what she's doing. It is, simply, a brilliant show—and it has been extended thru June 23rd.

Now, about 54 Below, the new nightclub underneath Studio 54 on West 54th Street between Broadway & 8th Avenue ...

The opening in the theater district of 54 Below, coming so soon upon the demise of The Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room, brings to mind the scientific law that states "Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. However, energy can change forms, and energy can flow from one place to another. The total energy of an isolated system remains the same." In other words, where once there were three big clubs dominating the New York nightclub scene, well, now there are three once again: The Café Carlyle, Feinstein's at Loews' Regency, and now 54 Below.

But don't get us wrong; 54 Below is just about everything that the Oak Room was not: current, theater-savvy, and designed to be audience-friendly. The space in which performers put on their shows provides great sightlines from virtually anywhere in the room. Compare that to the Oak Room, the worst designed cabaret space among the major clubs, and already 54 Below is way ahead. The new room is also spacious and accommodates a good-sized crowd. It has Broadway level lighting, sound, and design. It is, in a word, classy. Plus, the club is pulling out all the stops to book major Broadway talent, which makes sense considering that it's the only one of the three major clubs that's in the theater district. On the other side of the coin, there are only so many stars at the level of Patti LuPone, Brian d'Arcy James, etc. Nonetheless, with Patti's socko opening of the club, 54 Below is not only immediately on the map, it now defines the map for theater-going tourists looking for shows in the theater district.

Patti LuPone at 54 Below through June 23, 2012. Also appearing, Jackie Hoffman, Sundays through July 29; Justin Vivan Bond, Mondays through July 9; Brian d'Arcy James, Juune 26 - 30; Lane Horne, July 5; Rebecca Luker July 6 and 7; Ben Vereen, July 10 - 21; Jamie deRoy & Friends, July 16;

[Full disclosure: Among Scott Siegel's many projects, he produces and hosts a weekly show at Feinstein's at Loews Regency.]

Harvey at Studio 54

Jim Parsons, who plays the role made famous by Jimmy Stewart in the movie Harvey, has succeeded—wondrously—in the seemingly impossible task of making the role of Elwood P. Dowd his own. There isn't the slightest attempt to copy Jimmy Stewart in any way, shape, or form; instead, Parsons imbues Dowd with a simplicity and earnestness of his own. Parsons is helped along by a sweet and touching story that is charmingly directed with a delicate hand by Scott Ellis. Jessica Hecht gives a comedic performance that is also unexpectedly rich and ultimately moving. After this show, audiences will once again add Harvey to their list of magical creatures they know and love. This is a revival much admired and long overdue. Congrats to the Roundabout Theatre Company for bringing it back.

Harvey at Studio 54 through August 5, 2012.

3C at The Rattlestick Theatre

Rarely have so many good actors been put to such bad use. 3C is a new play by David Adjmi that parodies the old TV sitcom Three's Company in such a horrific way that you actually feel sorry for the original TV show and you might fairly come away thinking that simple-minded entertainment is better than pretentious, overbearing "ART."

The same basic structure of Three's Company is employed in 3C: a dumb blonde, a more serious brunette and a young man moving in with them who, in this case, is gay, rather than pretending to be gay. The nutty neighbor/landlord couple is also in evidence, although in this case the husband is a sexual sicko, doubling as a homophobe, while the wife is a breath away from being a total lunatic. The dialogue, which admittedly has the occasional funny line, is delivered in a style that can only be called "unreal." Directed without taste by Jackson Gay, the machinations of the plot become increasingly tedious. The pain these characters are in is nothing compared to the pain the audience is in, watching them.

3C at Rattlestick Playwrights Theaer through July 15, 2012.

-- Barbara and Scott Siegel

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