By Brian Scott Lipton
“You’ll be swell, you’ll be great.” Even before entering David Geffen Hall on May 16, fans of the legendary Patti LuPone were absolutely sure these words – sung for one year on Broadway by LuPone in “Gypsy” –would soon come true. But in reality, it proved hard to be prepared for what a powerful performance LuPone was about to deliver alongside the New York Philharmonic in a thrilling 90-minute concert that served as both the orchestra’s annual Spring Gala and a slightly belated 70th celebration for the Tony Award-winning star.
The event, as might be expected, attracted a slew of celebrity admirers and previous collaborators, including Victor Garber, Michael Urie and Ryan Spahn, Andy Cohen, Andrew Rannells, David Yazbek, Michael Greif, Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn, and her director Scott Wittman.
After an “overture” that promised great things to come, LuPone — resplendent in a blue gown by Irish designer Peter O’Brien — kicked off the evening with a sassy (and slightly revised) version of Rodgers & Hart’s “The Lady is a Tramp,” before launching into over an hour’s worth of her past theatrical triumphs. She started with two comic gems, “I Am Easily Assimilated” from “Candide” (one of many numbers where she joined by members of the Broadway Inspirational Voices) and “The Worst Pies in London” from “Sweeney Todd,” before segueing into the lovely romantic ballad “Sleepy Man,” which she introduced way back in 1975 in “The Robber Bridegroom.”
And then came the big guns, rat-a-tat one after another, each one performed with an incredible mix of passion, commitment and vocal firepower: An absolutely stunning “Meadowlark,” (from “The Baker’s Wife”), a heart-wrenching “I Dreamed A Dream” (from “Les Miserables”), a glorious “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” (from “Evita”), a delicious “Invisible” (from “Women on the Verge of the Breakdown”), a defiant “If I’d Been A Man” (from “War Paint”), and, yes, a roof-raising “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” (from “Gypsy”) — all sounding just as amazing as when LuPone originally introduced them. The cheers after each number could probably be heard outside on the Lincoln Center plaza.
However, the applause for her next number started before the first note was sung and the second LuPone grabbed a martini glass: her now-signature rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s brilliantly sardonic “The Ladies Who Lunch” (from “Company). Honestly, it might never have stopped except we all wanted to hear what was next. And boy, were we rewarded, with an extraordinary rendition of Cole Porter’s “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” (from “Anything Goes,”) that was, among other virtues, a testament to LuPone’s fearlessness as a performer.
Her few variations from her “greatest hits” were equally wonderful: duetting with herself on a highly comic “A Boy Like That/I Have A Love” (from “West Side Story”), a complex and beautiful arrangement of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” on which she was joined by best pal Bridget Everett and the Broadway Inspirational Voices, and a triumphant take on George M. Cohan’s “Give My Regards to Broadway.”
And while LuPone has expressed some reluctance about another go on the Great White Way, when she sang “I’ll be back ‘ere long,” there was not a single person in the hall who wasn’t silently praying those words would soon come true.
Video Filming/Interviews: Shoshana Medney