“Old folks sit around by the television set, sighing one perpetual sigh,” according to Kander and Ebb’s song “Old Folks,” which opens the second act of “An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.” LuPone and Patinkin are certainly not old folks, except perhaps to theatergoers in their teens or 20s, and they are still vibrant performers. But the atmosphere of “old folks” — and a nostalgic, sit-around-with-friends-in-the-living-room feeling — permeates the affair. Pleasant and sweet are not words you might ordinarily associate with these two, but their Broadway concert is both.
The pair — who first starred opposite each other in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” in 1979 — bring some of that old magic to the Barrymore, most noticeably when he sings “Oh What a Circus” and she sings “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” both from “Evita.” They also each reprise one of their other signature numbers.
But the rest of the night is showtunes, some of which make sense coming from LuPone and Patinkin and others of which do not. The show is anchored by extended chunks of “South Pacific” and “Carousel.” These are kind of interesting, somewhat like watching two Broadway stars stretching themselves in scene class. (It’s hard to say what someone unfamiliar with these Rodgers and Hammerstein classics would make of these snippets-with-song, but it’s unlikely that someone unfamiliar with “South Pacific” and “Carousel” would wander into “An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.”) Given this exercise, one doesn’t look forward to seeing LuPone’s Nellie Forbush or Patinkin’s Billy Bigelow, although Patinkin has the makings of an effective Emile de Becque in “South Pacific.”
The pair joined together for a personal appearance 10 years ago and worked it into an act that they have been touring between gigs ever since. Hence the simple setup: a black stage with Steinway and a few chairs, a long rectangular scrim for lighting effects and 28 ghost lights of varying sizes and colors for decoration. No orchestra, understandably in that they often play one-nighters. This is not a detriment, as pianist Paul Ford and bassist John Beal, two of today’s finest theater musicians, are sitting there in Mandy’s living room. Or stage right, rather.
New Yorkers have in the past weeks seen concerts not only from Hugh Jackman at the Broadhurst, but Audra McDonald and Cheyenne Jackson on separate dates at Carnegie Hall. Many patrons are still talking about these evenings and would go back in a shot for a repeat viewing. LuPone and Patinkin are in the same rarefied class of theater stars, but their present vehicle is merely likably friendly.
Over the years, both have sometimes had well-publicized battles with their collaborators. Here, together, they are engaged in a love fest and are nothing if not supremely comfortable. So we get LuPone and Patinkin without their edge, which may or may not be a good thing.