Actually, LuPone isn’t shy about letting the cry out, and her dramatic, theatrical style is perfectly suited to the Walter Kerr Theater. In other settings — and before other auds — LuPone’s emotional reading of an emotional song like the Weill-Brecht “Surabaya Johnny” could seem hopelessly stagy. Here, it’s as fitting as the gilded architecture.
The show is broken into two acts, the first a mix of standards (Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You,” Irving Berlin’s “Always”), novelty numbers (“Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”), contemporary pop (“Get Here”) and Weill (“I’m a Stranger Here Myself,””My Ship”). Her powerhouse rendering of Stephen Sondheim’s “Being Alive” is just the note to end the first act.
But it’s the second act that really gives the crowd what it paid for — a catalog of LuPone’s own theater hits. Starting with a lovely version of James Taylor’s “Looking for Love on Broadway,” LuPone moves into her “best of” set with a visual joke — arms outstretched in that “Evita” pose — that displays her self-mocking humor.
Then comes the torrent: “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,””Sleepy Man” (from “The Robber Bridegroom”), “Meadowlark” (from “The Baker’s Wife”), “As Long as He Needs Me” (from “Oliver!”), “I Dreamed a Dream” (from “Les Miserables”), a lovely “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” (from “Pal Joey”), and “Anything Goes.”
Thunderous applause is reserved for a song she’s singing on Broadway for the first time: “As if We Never Said Goodbye” from “Sunset Boulevard.” LuPone gets considerable comic mileage from her famous dismissal by Andrew Lloyd Webber. As with the rest of the spoken material (credit Jeffrey Richman), some anecdotes hit their marks, others don’t. She’s at her best in the more relaxed moments.
And, of course, when she’s singing. Backed by four top-notch vocalists — Bryon Motley, Josef Powell, Gene Van Buren and John West, collectively known as the Mermen — LuPone is in great voice for the show, and does some especially effective harmonizing with the Mermen on “Sleepy Man” and Berlin’s “Moonshine Lullaby.”
Despite an occasional tinniness, LuPone’s six-piece band does well by John McDaniel’s arrangements. Several songs performed with only piano accompaniment prove LuPone’s ability to fill a theater with little assistance. Indeed, the production as a whole seems blessedly under-produced, with no set to speak of and lighting (by John Hastings) that is tasteful, attractive and unobtrusive.
The production’s understatement — and that’s certainly not to say LuPone’s understatement — presents the singer to her best advantage, proving that happy endings are possible: Patti LuPone is back on Broadway, and there ain’t a dead monkey or flying staircase in sight.