An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin
Directed by Mandy Patinkin
Moody, temperamental, larger than life and infernally talented, Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin became stars on Broadway together more than thirty years ago in Evita, and now they return to Broadway with a musical double act (through January 13), billed in alphabetical order. The brassy LuPone is known for her high professional standards and her vocal dismay at the decline of manners in the theater; no one is more pained by a cell phone going off during a dramatic moment or a photo being taken during an eleven o'clock number. Patinkin has an even scarier reputation as a Method musical performer of sometimes-questionable judgment. Either apart or together, these two are not to be ignored, and they're part of a perhaps dying breed: the volatile live performer whose needs are too large and greedy for the camera or the studio set.
Patinkin and LuPone are at their best with demanding behavior and outright menace, so it comes as a surprise when they spend a lot of the first act of their joint evening doing songs from South Pacific (Patinkin has the baritone for Emile de Becque's "Some Enchanted Evening," but LuPone isn't anyone's idea of Nellie Forbush). This Rodgers and Hammerstein material is set in opposition with Stephen Sondheim songs from Company, but the musical thread is lost when they start to do some older songs like "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and "I Won't Dance" and acting all cuddly-wuddly with each other. LuPone and Patinkin are major musical theater performers, perhaps the major musical theater performers of our time, but trying to be lovable and dear with each other doesn't suit them. Their egos are obviously self-sufficient enough to do without such obvious "love me" tactics.
They get back on track in the second act with harder-edged tunes from Gypsy, Follies and Evita, and then they settle in to doing many of the songs from Carousel. This works out far better then the earlier Rodgers and Hammerstein playlet, with Patinkin an ideally arrogant, insecure Billy Bigelow, and LuPone demonstrating some range with her quiet, girlish Julie. It's easy to imagine them making history in Carousel circa 1985 or so, but this suggestion of how they might have done it will have to do. For an encore, they obliged with a likably hammy version of "You're Just in Love," the counterpoint duet from Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam, shaking and quaking and holding onto each other and snarling all around the stage. It's fun to tick off their vocal idiosyncrasies: the way that LuPone will bend a note slightly when she isn't using vibrato to hold it, the way that she emphasizes her consonants now after years of slurring them, or Patinkin's creepy semi-falsetto notes and retreats into nonsense noises and faces. It's difficult to be moved by them, but it's easy to be impressed and fearful. Now some brave composer just needs to write them a new musical about a middle-aged power couple mowing down everyone in sight.
(Photo: Joan Marcus)