Saint Patti commands the stage

06.19.10
Patti LuPone
Star Tribune

By Rohan Preston

Patti LuPone treated her fans with stories and songs during her "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda" show.

Brassy Broadway belter Patti LuPone did it her way Friday at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.

Using tunes from Frank Sinatra, Stephen Sondheim and the broader musical theater repertory, the lady with a torch song limned her lifelong love affair with the stage in a performance that sometimes bordered on the rapturous, especially for her adoring fans.

The two-hour show, titled "Coulda Woulda Shoulda," was remarkable not only for her energetic showmanship -- accompanied only by Chris Fenwick's supple, atmosphere-setting piano -- but also as she filled the hall with her outsized passion and stories.

Her instrument is in top form. At 61, she has the vocal athleticism and power of someone decades younger, and can clearly teach "American Idol" wannabes a thing or two about belting and maintaining their voices.

Still, LuPone's Orchestra Hall evening was an unusual kind of retrospective. The two-time Tony Award-winner sang signature numbers from roles she has famously played, including a dramatic "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," from her much-celebrated turn as Eva Peron in "Evita"; a willful "Everything's Coming Up Roses," from "Gypsy," which was revived on Broadway in 2008 with LuPone as star.

She delivered a beautiful "Send in the Clowns" from Sondheim's "A Little Night Music," with phrasing and pathos that would be instructive for Oscar- and Tony-winner Catherine Zeta-Jones, who butchered this number on the Tony telecast last Sunday.

A storyteller with good comic timing, LuPone did numbers from some obscure shows that she had done as well, including "The Baker's Wife," which, she said, set a record at the Kennedy Center for the lowest number of tickets sold ("25 in a 2,500-seat house") and never made it to Broadway. The show yielded the stirring number "Meadowlark," which LuPone sensually embodied, working her hand from her chest down her body. Another bomb was the Alfred Uhry-Robert Waldman musical, "The Robber Bridegroom." It lasted for two weeks on Broadway in 1975 but produced a song, "Sleepy Man," which Lupone and Fenwick did as in a dreamy duet.

Of course, directors did not cast her for "Peter Pan," but she did "Never Never Land" anyway. Another show drew from roles she wished she had played but had not been cast for either because directors thought she did not fit the parts or because they were pants roles ("Camelot").

As she sang in Minneapolis, LuPone recalled two famous Babs -- Barbara Walters, to whom she has a vague resemblance, and Barbra Streisand, with whom she shares some vocal qualities and a similarly dramatic flair. (LuPone's rendition of "Don't Rain on My Parade," from "Funny Girl," underscored the comparison.)

As she came back for one encore, then another, Orchestra Hall was transformed into a sanctuary, with a commanding LuPone leading the faithful.