Patti LuPone didn’t need to try. The two-time Grammy award winner effortlessly entranced Bing Concert Hall at her show “Don’t Monkey with Broadway” on Wednesday with her vocal prowess and humorous storytelling. LuPone’s virtuosic performance of Broadway songs, speckled with stories about her Broadway journey, left no doubt that she earned her reputation as a musical theater icon.
While she recently played the serious, humorless mother in Ari Aster’s horror film “Beau is Afraid,” LuPone flaunted her comedic side in the show, telling stories and singing with sass. At one point, she even spontaneously asked whoever is in charge of air conditioning to turn it on because she felt warm.
LuPone carried us through her journey to Broadway, from being mesmerized by Kate Smith’s contralto as a three-year-old; to being cast as an elderly woman in opera “The Mikado” at the mere age of 10; to playing the female lead in “The Baker’s Wife” on Broadway.
She shared with amusement that “The Baker’s Wife” broke the record for being the least-attended show in the Kennedy Center’s history. Despite that, she fortunately still made it — and almost fifty years later sang my favorite performance of the night, a playful rendition of “Big Spender” from the musical “Sweet Charity.”
Describing Patti LuPone’s voice as “powerful and extraordinary” would be a sore understatement. Her renditions of Broadway tunes were nearly flawless, showcasing her dynamic range and penetrating vibrato. LuPone struck a chord with heart wrenching and solemn songs like “Meadowlark” from “The Baker’s Wife” and “Somewhere” from “West Side Story.” The soundwaves from her voice alone could have powered the air conditioning in the hall. LuPone left me scratching my head as to why she doesn’t have a third Grammy — and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.
The visuals in the show were kept to a minimum, directing the focus to LuPone’s acclaimed voice. Dressed in a black blazer and skirt, LuPone took to the stage with nothing but a microphone, a spotlight and accompanying pianist Joseph Thalken. This no-frills stage setup created a relaxed, intimate ambience and allowed the audience to soak in her powerful voice.
It also made it all the more startling when LuPone took out a prop gun and shot it towards the audience during “If You Hadn’t, But You Didn’t.” Though her voice could have snapped someone out of a coma, the sound of the shot firing was the most rousing part of the night.
Like the stage and lighting design, LuPone’s movements and expressions remained simplistic. Occasionally she would lean on the piano or raise an arm, but was overall rather still as she sang. To the laughing audience’s delight, she tilted her head back and forth during “A Boy Like That / I Have a Love” from “West Side Story” to signify switching between the parts.
Her stage presence could have been more magnetic with additional gestures like this one, although arguably, the audience could not have been more attracted to her persona. The seats were filled with fans who whooped and applauded after each song; the love for her was palpable.
This stop of the “Don’t Monkey with Broadway” tour took the audience on an enchanting tour of theater classics from Patti LuPone’s illustrious career, showcasing her undeniable talent. At the conclusion of the show, the audience gave three standing ovations, a well-deserved tribute for the Broadway legend.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.