By Brian Scott Lipton
No one would ever accuse of Patti LuPone of “monkeying around” on stage. Few performers show the kind of dedication and commitment to their material, and to connecting with their audience, as this Tony Award-winning star. But it’s little exaggeration to state that LuPone has outdone herself with her new show “Don’t Monkey With Broadway,” which debuted in New York to raucous cheers at Symphony Space on April 19 as part of Project B-Way/95.
Conceived and directed by her frequent collaborator Scott Wittman, and featuring impeccable music direction by the great Joseph Thalken, this two-act, two-hour show managed to display previously unseen facets of LuPone’s musical personality, while also giving her long-time fans exactly what they came to hear: unparalleled renditions of such anthems of the Great White Way as “Meadowlark,” “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina,” “Some People,” “Being Alive,” and “The Ladies Who Lunch.” And who else – and I mean who else – would have had the guts to come out for a truly unplanned encore, and then belt out the ultra-difficult “Buenos Aries” with such head-on conviction (while also laughing at herself for forgetting a few of the words, and encouraging the theater-savvy crowd to sing along).
In many ways, though, some of the greatest joys of this concert were the personal stories of her early involvement and introduction to musicals, whether in her bedroom, community theater or before making her Broadway debut, and hearing the songs she chose to illustrate these memories: a swinging “A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” a surprisingly appealing “Happy Talk,” a moving “Easy to Be Hard,” a feisty and funny “If,” and a truly sensitive pairing of “I Could Write a Book”” and “There’s a Small Hotel.”
And while LuPone has worked with children before, there was something truly special about her interaction with the Northport High School choir from Long Island (the same vocal group she belonged to in high school some decades ago). These talented teens joined LuPone for the first half of the second act, which was highlighted by dynamite renditions of “Trouble” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat”, as well as her supposed final encore, a gorgeous a cappella and unmiked take on the glorious “Some Other Time.”
At one point, LuPone cracked about how she sees herself as “sweet, vulnerable, and funny” – to much audience laughter — but she actually lived up to all those adjectives during the show, thanks to such welcome selections as “Sleepy Man,” “Anyone Can Whistle,” and, most especially, “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love” (one of a group of songs from West Side Story) in which she performed both the roles of Anita and Maria with gusto and glory (and a few deliberately hilarious bits). If we didn’t know it before, we know it now: there is nothing Patti cannot do!
So, to all concert and Broadway producers out there, please heed my words: Don’t monkey around. Book this show pronto. It is one of the must-sees for any lovers of LuPone or musical theater.