An Evening With Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin

Ethel Barrymore Theatre, NYC - November 2011

Review by John Kenrick

The truth is, they never left us. And praise be, their talents are more potent than ever.

How sweet it is to see two of the greatest performers in musical theatre at the peak of their abilities celebrating the music they love. Although I was lucky enough to discover Patti Lupone when she first won attention in The Acting Company, and to first encounter Mandy Patinkin in the ensemble of a powerful drama called The Shadow Box, most theatergoers fell in love with these formidable performers when they co-dazzled in the original Broadway production of Evita. In the three decades since that mega-hit, these two have remained friends while pursuing separate careers. But as they share the stage once again in a joint Broadway lovefest, it is clear that the only people more delighted by this reunion than the stars themselves are their legions of fans.

I say "lovefest" because Lupone and Patinkin spend two the entire two hours celebrating not only their lasting friendship, but above all their joint lifelong affection for the music of Broadway and the so-called "great American songbook." It is no surprise that much of their program is dedicated to the words and music of Stephen Sondheim -- both have performed his works with triumphant results over the years, as their freshly-thrilling renditions of songs introduced by others ("Everything's Coming Up Roses" from Gypsy and "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues" from Follies) prove.

But there are plenty of surprising song choices too, including a disarming version of Murray Grand's "April in Fairbanks" (with hilarious office-chair choreography by Anne Reinking), superb performances of songs by Kern, Kander and Ebb, Ashman and Menken, and of course a sensational taste of Lloyd Webber and Rice's Evita -- as if to serve notice before the upcoming revival that Patinkin's "Oh What a Circus" and Lupone's "Don't Cry For Me" are still the stuff of Broadway legend and always shall be.

But perhaps the greatest surprise is that the stars have shrewdly chosen to open the show with a medley of songs and dialogue from South Pacific, and close it with a similar dual character study from Carousel. Both Patinkin and Lupone approach these seemingly unlikely choices with extraordinary sensitivity, using their maturity to shed a fresh and utterly glorious light on some of Rodgers and Hammerstein's best work.

Patinkin directs the proceeding with a refreshingly simple and sure hand. An abundance of ghost lights (the standing bulbs usually reserved for deserted stages) give the proceedings a singularly theatrical feel, and Eric Cornwall's lighting and Daniel J. Gerhard's sound design are flawless. Pianist Paul Ford and bassist John Beal provide perfect accompaniment, making the Barrymore Theatre the most cozy and intimate party space the stars and audience could hope for.

For musical theatre lovers, and yes, for anyone with brains and a heart to match, An Evening With Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin is pure theatrical heaven -- and an event fans will cherish for a lifetime.

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