Leicester Square Theatre, London
The phrase "every cloud has a silver lining" was defined last night at London's Leicester Square Theatre when Patti Lupone, in residency until Sunday, had her piano malfunction shortly into her act. Whilst the problem was addressed and until a replacement keyboard sourced Lupone, in conversation with host/pianist, Seth Rudetsky, expanded the chat section of her act from inter-song fillers, to a far more revealing Q&A and a show that stretched from two to three hours, could have happily continued all night, such was the wit and disclosure of the banter, combined with the singer’s sublime talents.
It's nearly 30 years since Miss Lupone created the Tony and Olivier winning roles of Evita on Broadway and Fantine in London respectively and her backstage tales were sparkling gems that burned a glorious arc through the years right up to the present era. She recounted her withering response to John Caird's suggestion that in Les Miserables, after Fantine's death, the Broadway diva should simply fall in with the rest of the ensemble. Lupone went on to share a devastating observation on the more recent appalling behaviour of her (unnamed) Broadway leading lady in Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown whilst her relating of the sad commercial life of Schwartz's The Bakers Wife was made all the more painful by her expanding upon the history behind its beautiful (but axed) song Meadowlark which she then went on to sing, wonderfully.
It is an inspired move that pairs Lupone with Rudetsky for this show. Back home in the USA he hosts a coast to coast satellite radio show, On Broadway and he jokingly refers to himself as America's Elaine Page. The man has encyclopaedic knowledge of musical theatre, silky skills at the keyboard and above all, the respect and trust of Miss Lupone. The first half of the evening is given over to his stand up routine that is a combination of autobiographical reflections and a sharing of amusing musical theatre mishaps over the years. It works and it warms the audience up nicely for the chanteuse's arrival after the interval.
In a classy comedic touch the singer truly does not know what number Rudestky has selected to open her set with until the opening bars. It’s a fresh touch that shatters the fourth wall and creates an automatic and relaxed bond with her audience. Later in the act, bespectacled and with a disarming honesty, she will occasionally reach for sheet music to remind herself of lyrics. Do any of the audience care that she needs prompting? Hell no. Her voice has clearly matured with the years but her delivery remains magnificent and her belt is still simply spine-tingling. I Dreamed A Dream was the moving treat we all expected, but her explanation that the spectacular five note melodic journey of the word “shame” in the line “ as they turn your dreams to shame”, was her idea, was a nugget of golden theatre history. (For Les Mis geeks, that line was originally scored to mirror Eponine’s “but he never saw me there” from One Day More) Her selection from Evita included a fabulous Rainbow High, complete with audience participation for the song's ensemble lines, that proved Lupone to be more than still up to the task of delivering one of Lloyd-Webber's more challenging compositions.
With other highlights of the evening including some wonderful "mockney" nods to Lionel Bart's Oliver and a sprinkling of Sondheim and Cole Porter, her set list was as diverse as the chats with Rudetsky were revelatory, and witnessing Lupone perform, close up, in this venue's comparative intimacy was little short of a privilege. Tim Rice famously had Evita sing of her own "little touch of star quality". Many years on, Lupone has far more than just a little touch. The woman is an icon. Not to be missed.
Runs until June 23 2013
Seth Rudetsky performs Dissecting Broadway solo for one night only on June 22 2013