Wednesday, November 23, 2011

An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin

Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin are deserved legends. Spending an evening with them singing two dozen or so songs, you know, during some incredibly magical moments, exactly why. When Ms. LuPone sings “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” she needs neither trappings nor context. She devastates with raw vulnerability and abundant vocal guts. She delivered a dizzying performance of “Not Getting Married Today.” Actually, she delivered it twice on opening night, just to get every word out perfectly.

She is never more charming and enjoyable than when she assumes the role of underdog. It was as lovely as it was rare to see. Likewise, Mandy Patinkin’s best moment came after a few flubs and false starts during “Everybody Says Don’t.” When Ms. LuPone distracted him with an impromptu waltz, he stopped performing and just sang the song—beautifully.

Much of the rest of the evening is labored and moves far too slowly. Nobody comes to a Mandy and Patti show and expects subtlety or boredom, but they have included scenes from musicals associated with some of the songs. That is a mistake. Their acting is stilted and the scenes contrived and the flimsy thread that connects the whole affair is cute at best. They spoke as themselves once each during the evening. They are so personal and human and connected to the audience, you long for more banter. More of them. It is what you walk in expecting. So, it becomes not so much an evening with them as an evening watching them half-act what one can only imagine are dream roles. That their dreams include so much Rodgers and Hammerstein made me want to pinch myself. I couldn’t wake up fast enough.

You really need to be a fan, perhaps not die hard but a fan nevertheless, to fully appreciate the evening. Patinkin hasn’t so much lost his voice as his lilt. He seems to be recasting himself as a baritone, but his voice in that register is wobbly and overworked. His vibrato is like a cement mixer, and his phrasing is all jerks and lurches. I know voices settle as they age, but his upper range is clear and beautiful and breathtaking. The lower range sounds like he settled and then settled. Ms. LuPone has either become a caricature of herself or is atrophied by habit. That she over articulates when she speaks and sings without burden of a consonant is an expectation as much as an enigma; but the mouth is more cocked, the phrases spit as often as sung, and so many notes got trapped in her nose, I suspect at least one was of the ransom variety.

But these are stars, still bigger than life. They deserve a show that is as big as they are, as monumental. Watching tigers wimper and only occasionally growl feels like voyeurs at the zoo, waiting for the caged animals to yawn or lick themselves. One expects that the stage is LuPone’s and Patinkin’s natural habitat. They do attack from time to time—a charming chair dance, an uncharacteristic “A Quiet Thing” and “Like It Was” from Ms. LuPone, exciting reprises of past performances of “The-God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues” and “Oh What a Circus” from Mr. Patinkin, and two delightful duets for an encore. Even a theatre cub would starve on the amount of red meat they served up, quality though it was.

I have no doubt that an evening with LuPone and Patinkin could be thrilling. I have spent evenings with them that were thrilling. Unfortunately, not this time, not entirely.


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