One of the many things to like about the Adelaide Cabaret Festival is that, not only is its program filled with new and intriguing performers, it is also a showcase for capital ‘‘S” Stars. There have been many over its 17 year history, including such Broadway luminaries as Bernadette Peters, Michael Feinstein, Mandy Patinkin, Stephen Schwartz, and the Wicked stars Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel. This year it is Patti LuPone.
Her show, Don’t Monkey with Broadway, is a survey of a stage career that begins in the 1960s and spans to the present. She has won two Grammies, two Tony awards, and the hearts and minds of audiences everywhere. The enthusiastic reception she received from a fully-primed Adelaide Cabaret Festival audience is no exception.
And it is Don’t Monkey with Broadway which opens the proceedings, the old standard sardonically peppered with updated references to Brooklyn hipsters and other observations LuPone has to make of the 42ndStreet “Walk of Shame”. But her reminiscences are upbeat and the show is a celebration of her extraordinary roles in both Broadway musicals and contemporary theatre.
From one of her earliest gig, cast as Rosie in Bye Bye Birdie, LuPone sings A Lot of Livin’ to Do; from South Pacific she selects Happy Talk and, recalling her unworldliness about the storyline of Sweet Charity, she performs a hilariously gormless version of Big Spender. LuPone is an engaging raconteur and her commentary bristles with her love of performance – especially new and innovative material. After her deftly phrased version of Easy to be Hard, she retells her fascination with the Sixties hit musical, Hair.
She also has had a continuing association with composer Stephen Schwartz, now legendary with the success of Wicked, but whose earlier projects, like The Baker’s Wife and (Studs Terkel’s) Working,struggled to find audiences then, but now have cult followings. From the former, LuPone sang Meadowlark, a song she has made famous, and from Working she performed (brilliantly) a short monologue from a process worker describing her numbingly repetitive factory conditions, followed by Millworker, a song written for the show by James Taylor.
There is also plenty of the Great American Songbook. I Could Write a Book from Rodgers and Hart, a droll reading of I Cain’t Say No from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma and Some People from Gypsy all feature. And to finish the first set, from Evita, a role LuPone created for Broadway, of course – Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.
To open the second half, Patti LuPone warmly welcomes excellent local vocalists Gospo Collective to share a bracket of goodies including Trouble from The Music Man, Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat from Guys and Dolls and Cole Porter’s Blow Gabriel Blow. Then for a bonus, LuPone leads them through a dreamy version of Sleepy Man, from The Robber Bridegroom, a musical in which she performed when part of John Houseman’s Acting Company in the early 1970s.
In this effortlessly managed program, Patti Lupone makes her favourites instantly our own. Especially when it’s a pin sharp medley from West Side Story – conjuring the urgency of Something’s Coming and wittily singing both sides of Maria and Anita’s duet, A Boy Like That. Then, in one of many stand-out moments, she turns Somewhere into a heartfelt lament, a timeless song made especially timely by the day’s news about the plight of migrant children on the Mexican border.
And it wouldn’t be a show without Sondheim. Expert interpreter of so many styles Patti LuPone excels with the psychologically insightful social milieu of Stephen Sondheim’s chamber musicals.
The phrasing and feeling she extracts from his songs, splendidly accompanied by pianist Joseph Thalkin, is exceptional. The choices are also intriguing and satisfying: Another Hundred People and Being Alive from Company, the title song from Anyone Can Whistle and Not While I’m Around from Sweeney Todd.
The curtain closer is another bouquet to the Great White Way, Give My Regards to Broadway. But the justifiably enraptured audience is having none of it. For encores LuPone delivers another superb, witty interpretation – of The Ladies Who Lunch, and brings back The Class of Cabaret, and turns off the mics as they croon Bill Evans’ wryly tender Some Other Time. And then, a last word from this star soloist – A Hundred Years from Today. Patti LuPone really is one for the ages.
Patti LuPone with Joseph Thalken was reviewed at the Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre on June 21