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Patti Lupone: Don't Monkey with Broadway

Played Toronto's Meridian Hall November 17 and now on tour in the US

Credit: Rahav and from TOLive website

Joe Szekeres

“Patti Lupone is far more than a diva of the theatre. Don’t label her that anymore. ‘Don’t Monkey with Broadway’ is a joyous event and a celebration of storytelling. She is an artist who remains eternally grateful for the opportunities in her career.”

She might be billed as a diva of the theatre; however, ‘la grande dame’ Patti Lupone came across as far more than that label on November 17 for one night only of her ‘Don’t Monkey with Broadway’ tour at Toronto’s Meridian Hall.

She’s one hell of a grateful lady for the opportunities she’s had and doesn’t take the critical acclaim and reaction of audiences everywhere for granted. When she walked out on the stage, the audience was on its feet in its first of standing ovations. Lupone appeared emotionally moved by this display of affection even before she sang or spoke one word.

Billed as a love letter to the Great White Way, ‘Don’t Monkey with Broadway’ initially comes across as a masterclass in song delivered by the founding member of the Drama Division of The Juilliard School. The house programme did not carry the song titles.

There’s a reason why, and it’s a good choice we don’t know.

It’s the same reason why a vast orchestra isn’t backing her up. She doesn’t need one. Instead, her Music director, Joseph Thalken, beautifully accompanies her on the piano. He gets what she wants to do. In grateful appreciation for that, Lupone periodically acknowledges his work and playfully, at one point, pulls him up with her to take a bow.

Instead, like a true teacher, Lupone wants the audience to hear and to listen, two key elements that sometimes appear to be lacking today. Through hearing and listening, Patti gets the audience to think about what they are hearing and listening.

How novel! An artist who gets people to think through hearing and listening.

Accoutered smartly in a black dress, the first act has Patti interspersing songs with moments from her career. In the second act, she enters wearing a tuxedo, which reminded me of Julie Andrews in ‘Victor/Victoria.’ Patti announced that sometimes men have incredible moments of song that women don’t have.

Patti wants to sing them.

And she launches right into them full steam ahead.

She does so with the bold confidence of a woman who has survived the highs and lows of the theatre industry. When she begins ‘Trouble in River City’ from ‘The Music Man’ I couldn’t help but smile. Patti has caused some trouble in the River City of Broadway. She’s snatched phones from theatregoers in performance. She stopped ‘Gypsy’ when she knew pictures were being taken. She took batting practice in her UK dressing room when she learned she would not play Norma Desmond when ‘Sunset Blvd’ transferred to New York.

Sometimes, causing ‘trouble’ gets results and gets people to think.

Whether or not we agree or disagree with how she dealt with these troubles doesn’t matter to us. They mattered to Patti, and she dealt with it in the way she did. She cares. That’s why she’s caused trouble over the years. People know that about it. She’s vocal about stating how Broadway has changed in the last 10+ years.

But the audience isn’t here to discuss these issues. We’re here to hear, listen to, and hopefully understand how music transforms Lupone and how she can transform an audience.

And that’s why you don’t monkey with Broadway or her.

Lupone showcases those incredible vocal pipes with some terrific musical theatre numbers. The audience went wild just before the intermission with the unmissable ‘Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina’ from ‘Evita’ for which she won the coveted Tony award.

She will be remembered for two other numbers – Rose’s Turn from ‘Gypsy’ and Ladies Who Lunch from her Tony Award-winning performance in ‘Company’. The former suddenly burst forth as a segue from the end of one song to the next, sending the audience into a love frenzy mania for the songstress.

But I was waiting for the latter as ‘Company’ has always fascinated me, and ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ is one hell of an eleven o’clock number that I longed to hear.

I waited patiently…and waited patiently…and kept wondering if she would do it because we were approaching the second act's end.

But the adage ‘Good things come to those who wait’ aptly applies in this case.

Lupone didn’t disappoint.

Not in the least.

The reason why ‘Don’t Monkey with Broadway’ is more than just a masterclass in song?

Patti remains a consummate artistic storyteller who inherently senses the power of words and their meaning. Someone who knows how to tell a story well will always make people pay attention and listen.

This is Patti.

She loves the sounds of words through speech and lyrics. Her rendition of ‘Hey Big Spender’ from ‘Sweet Charity’ is only one example where she incorporated laughter because she finds the humour in words, in the way she pauses and in the way she punctuates in delivering the song that makes the audience roar with approval.

Final Comments: I’ve seen Patti live on stage twice – in the early 90s in ‘Sunset Blvd’ in London and the early 2000s in New York in ‘Sweeney Todd’—two very different roles, the former a stormy relationship with its composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.

But what an honour to see her, hear her and listen to her again.

‘Don’t Monkey with Broadway’ also means ‘Don’t Monkey with Patti Lupone’. She’s seen it all, heard it all, experienced it, survived it all.

And she’s still here.

And if ‘Don’t Monkey with Broadway’ plays in your city very soon, see it.

Scott Wittman, Director and curator
Joseph Thalken, Music Director

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