Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Also see Richard's reviews of Fallaci and Jersey Boys
It was a night to remember when the incomparable Patti LuPone entered the small stage of the Rrazz Room on Wednesday March 20th. She lifted the audience with her singing of the songs of Kurt Weill, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Stephen Sondheim and David Yazbek. Accompanied by pianist Christopher Fenwick she tantalized her fans with an eclectic mix of songs under the title of Far Away Places (also the title of her newest recording). Conceiver-director Scott Wittman and Patti LuPone assembled a fresh and wide-ranging list of 15 songs for this 75-minute set designed loosely on the idea of travel.
One can see that she is a prime diva of the theatre, since not only does she sing the songs with her powerful voice but acts out each song. What is wonderful about this diva is her naturalness and relationship with her fans.
Without a big fanfare Patti LuPone opened the show with a new jazz interpretation of "The Gypsy in My Soul" followed by Willie Nelson's "Night Life" in which she told the audience of her lifelong itchy feet and reminisced about the wonderful old days before Times Square was cleaned up. She displayed her great acting singing on "I Wanna Be Around," which became slightly comic as she played an abandoned girlfriend wanting to see her ex receive his just desserts. After she finished the song she said this was the "Sicilian national anthem."
LuPone told the audience she wanted to be a stewardess but it would not be the polite "coffee, tea or me" but "Turn that phone off, who do you think you are." She was terrific singing a super sexy pairing of Frederick Hollander's "Black Market" and Cole Porter's tongue-twisting "Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking" followed by a loving version of "I Cover the Waterfront." She went all out on Stephen Sondheim's "By the Sea" from her Broadway triumph in Sweeney Todd.
The diva was supreme singing Kurt Weill's "Bilboa Song" and "Pirate Jenny." She found the perfect tone in these classics, including delivering "Pirate Jenny" with a sneering glare. Patti LuPone played tribute to Edith Piaf singing "Hymn to Love" with a rendition that reminded me of the wonderful Piaf I saw in Paris. She told the audience she wanted to try out a new song (for her), and belted out "Constantinople" which delighted her fans. There was a prerecorded disco track that seemed out of place for the show when she belted out the Bee Gee's "Nights on Broadway."
Patti LuPone played tribute to David Yazbek, the composer of The Full Monty, with the entrancing "Where's the Sandman" and her most recent Broadway musical Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown with a stunning "Invisible." She ended the evening with Kurt Weill's "September Song" from Knickerbocker Holiday using the original, lesser known show lyrics with exceptional warmth; it was a perfect end to a perfect evening.
Patti LuPone's Far Away Places played the Live at the Rrrazz Room at 1000 Van Ness, San Francisco from March 19 through March 24th. We saw the show on March 20th. The room has cancelled upcoming artists through April 30th. A new list of artist will be announced at a later date.
Nellie McKay, who has been described by the New York Times as "a bewitching pixie of a performer who sounds like Doris Day one minute and Anita O'Day the next," made a one night only appearance for the Bay Area Cabaret on March 23rd at the Venetian Room of the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Her special guest was the world renowned vocal a cappella ensemble Chanticleer.
Nellie McKay has a large following here in the Bay Area, and the room was packed with her current fans. She also made new fans, including me, with her brave, brash, brilliant and yet a little batty show. She is a free speaking individual with a killer voice that does remind me of Doris Day. She has recorded five albums that have been described by the Los Angeles Times as "pop in the broadest sense, embracing cabaret, show tunes, old standards and bit of 70's rock in the vein of Elton John and Cyndi Lauper." McKay made her Broadway debut as Polly Peachum in The Threepenny Opera revival for which she was received a Theatre World award for her portrayal. She is currently co-starring with Bill Irwin and David Shiner in the hit Off-Broadway production of Old Hats for which she wrote the music.
The evening started with Chanticleer singing "Willow Weep for Me" with some stunning falsetto voices highlighting this beautiful song. Nellie McKay then entered the stage unannounced to play the piano and sing in the background with the chorus, Cole Porter's "Night and Day." She then rose from the piano and, with a ukulele in hand, joined Chanticleer in a '20s rendition of "Nobody's Sweetheart Now." The choral group sometimes sounded like the Mills Brothers. They segued into "If I Could Write a Book" using their hands to make the various sounds of a full orchestra. Nellie McKay then sang a lovely arrangement of her work called "Heaven." The group then left the stage.
This slinky and game singer shined effortlessly singing and playing the piano, feeding us songs that were beautifully authentic and luminous. She can be bitingly sardonic and sweetly sentimental. She can even be casually flip, with guttural asides and frilly trills as she did on her "Mother of Pearl" song. (Feminists don't have a sense of humor / Feminists just want to be alone (boo-hoo) / Feminists spread vicious lies and rumor / They have a tumor on their funny bone ... Rampant prostitution, sex for money (what's wrong with that).") She was hilarious singing compositions such as a song to owners' devotion to their pets, called "The Dog Song," and her wild interpretation of a country-western song called "One's on the Way."
There was another side to this consummate artist when she turned soft and mellow on a rendition of "Body and Soul" and Rodgers and Hammerstein's "I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy" with a very special twist at the end. She even invited the audience to join in with "Don't Fence me In" - not to sing but to whistle it. The audience did just that. She even got the audience to sing sounds to a Spice Girl song with one side of the room singing "oh waw waw" and the other side singing "awwwwwww" and ending with a primal yell. She looked around the beautiful and spacious Venetian Room and said it looked like an "ovarian tomb," which brought down the house.
Bill Irwin says it best of this wonderful artist: "she's totally wacky and incredibly smart ... I mean her songs, her lyrics, her music is so smart in the milieu of the wacky blond. So it is a wild mix."
The night was a wonderful, wacky wild mix of songs that gained her a lot of new fans in San Francisco.
Bay Area Cabaret will conclude its 2012-2013 season by honoring the memory and legendary career of composer Marvin Hamlisch at the Venetian Room of the Hotel Fairmont on June 2nd. Special guests will include Lisa Vroman, Billy Stritch and 2012 Bay Area Teen Idol winner Robert Conte Thornton, with other guest artists to be announced. For tickets go to www.bayareacabaret.org or City Box Office 415-392-4400.