Too Much Mandy,Not Enough Patti

Patinkin shines (too brightly?) in uneven concert with LuPone.

11/29/2011
Special To The Jewish Week
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He seems capable of anything, this dashing man with the magical, mellifluous voice. The compulsively watchable Mandy Patinkin, back on Broadway in a concert of show tunes with Patti LuPone, is ever the master entertainer. If only Patinkin’s outsize ego did not practically crowd his costar off the stage. LuPone fans, take note. The much ballyhooed “An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin” is mostly, and most memorably, an evening with the latter.

An evening of showstoppers is almost always a pleasure, and these stars are both so versatile, and have such powerful voices, that a concert featuring the two of them would seem to be a sure-fire hit.

Patinkin, 58, who grew up in a Jewish family in Chicago, has tremendous range as both an actor and singer. This is shown abundantly in his albums (including a fine one of Yiddish music, “Mameloshen”), his starring roles on Broadway (and Off Broadway, as seen in his appearance as Meyer Levin in last year’s production of Rinne Groff’s “Compulsion,” about Levin's obsession with Anne Frank’s diary) and his many films and television shows. And LuPone, 62, who grew up in an Italian family on Long Island, is also one of the great musical theater stars of her generation, with starring roles in “Gypsy,” “Les Miz,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Anything Goes”  and many other Broadway and West End musicals.

Most, although not all, of the songs in the current show are drawn from Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” and “Merrily We Roll Along,” Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s “South Pacific” and “Carousel,” and of course, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s “Evita” — the latter being the one that starred LuPone and Patinkin when it first opened on Broadway in 1978.

Alas, the new show, which is conceived and directed by Patinkin, seems unsure what it wants to be — a simple concert or a full song-and-dance revue. The set is extremely simple: a bunch of standing lamps with different colored bulbs scattered around the stage, with pianist Paul Ford (Patinkin’s longtime accompanist) and bassist John Beal off on the side. But while the show incorporates a fair amount of the original dialogue that surrounds the songs, it is not clear if we are supposed to see the actors actually playing these characters, or just singing the musical numbers.

Most disconcertingly, while Patinkin is as impressive as ever, LuPone does not really belt out her songs; she takes a quieter approach, as if not to compete with the vocal fireworks of her costar. When she holds back, even on “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” the anthem from Jule Styne and Sondheim’s “Gypsy,” one wonders why it is even included in the show.

The disparity between the two is especially evident in the section of the show devoted to “Evita,” in which Patinkin gives a powerhouse performance of “Oh What a Circus” and LuPone seems oddly stymied by the vocal demands of “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” as if her beautifully brassy, breathy, trombone-like voice isn’t strong enough to put the song over with great emotion. This makes no sense, as anyone who has followed her over the years (and caught her performance as a superb, full-voiced Mrs. Lovett in John Doyle’s recent Broadway production of “Sweeney Todd”) can attest.

The parts of the show that work best are the ones that call for real teamwork between the two. This is shown mostly in the middle of the show, which contains some lesser-known, mostly comedic songs, like “I Won’t Dance,” from Jerome Kern’s “Roberta” and “April in Fairbanks” from Murray Grand’s “New Faces of 1956.” In songs like these, where Patinkin and LuPone tussle playfully with each other, at one point performing a pas de deux while seated on office swivel chairs, the chemistry between the two becomes apparent.

Still, Patinkin dominates throughout, showing off his virtuoso tenor and his eerie falsetto at every opportunity, as if constantly trying to top himself. Whether clowning his way through both the male and female parts in comic songs like “Somewhere That’s Green” from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s “Little Shop of Horrors,” mastering the quicksilver changes of “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me-Blues” from Sondheim’s “Follies,” or providing a gorgeously textured rendering of “Everybody Says Don’t” from Sondheim’s “Anyone Can Whistle,” Patinkin makes every song pay off in spades. At a time when everyone is singing Sondheim, Patinkin is one of the most accomplished interpreters of Sondheim’s work; he makes even the most familiar Sondheim tunes seem fresh.

After Broadway, Patinkin and LuPone plan to tour all over the country with the show. One hopes that LuPone will eventually come into her own and strut her stuff. In the meantime, Patinkin will keep providing enough vocal pyrotechnics for at least two, if not 10, Broadway stars.

“An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin” runs through Jan. 13 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St. Performances are Tuesday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. For tickets, $76.50-$136.50, call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com.

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