They’re calling it An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. But in light of how seriously these two musical theater stars approach their material, plus the fact they are dressed entirely in black, it would be more aptly described as A Funeral with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.
Both performers, who starred together in the original Broadway production of Evita, have reputations for having difficult personalities and extolling the virtues of Stephen Sondheim. After all, Patinkin starred in the original Sunday in the Park with George, and LuPone reignited her career with the 2008 Gypsy revival.
It was an inspired idea to bring them together for a joint concert, especially since they’ve previously excelled in countless solo concerts on Broadway and elsewhere. Neither has lost any vocal power whatsoever. The problem lies in this production’s puzzling, excessively somber execution.
As directed by Patinkin himself, this is a thoroughly austere and – except for a few silly bits (for instance, opening act two with “Old Folks” from 70, Girls, 70) – humorless concert. Accompanied by just a piano and bass, they tear through a large and varied stack of Broadway songs with barely any pauses or chitchat with the audience. Some of the transitions are quite interesting, like moving immediately from Patinkin singing a gender-switched “Somewhere that’s Green” into LuPone’s “Buddy’s Eyes.”
The strangest moments occur when they perform collections of songs from South Pacific and Carousel with accompanying dialogue. Mandy especially is so quietly intense that you can feel the audience growing increasingly uncomfortable. Watching him portray Billy Bigalow is, in fact, creepy. And LuPone hardly makes for a believably naïve Julie Jordan or Nellie Forbush.
The two hit their stride when reliving their past glories, and each receive standing ovations after performing “Oh, What a Circus” and “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from Evita, respectively. The only time when either speaks to the audience is right before this section, when Patinkin talks about meeting LuPone for the first time in 1979 before doing a big musical.
Interestingly, Patinkin never mentions Evita by name. One gets the impression that they are performing their Evita mega-hits begrudgingly (perhaps it forced them to give up a planned King & I suite). Still, it was a smart move on the part of the producers of the upcoming Evita revival to position a full-page advertisement in the middle of the playbill.
LuPone also performs “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from Gypsy. It didn’t register quite the same punch as when LuPone sang the same song in the Gypsy revival, as she was not formally in character and could not play off Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines, but it still made for one of the concert’s highlights. (Speaking of which, why didn’t Patinkin offer “Finishing the Hat” from Sunday in the Park with George?)
LuPone and Patinkin ought to check out Hugh Jackman’s glitzy one-man show, which is the polar opposite of theirs in terms of atmosphere. While they certainly don’t need backup dancers or a disco number, they’d benefit from lightening up, adding a band and acknowledging audience. Cheer up. You’re both on Broadway!