Concert Hall, June 23
Patti LuPone knows a stage like koalas know gum trees and pandas bamboo. It’s her natural habitat, her instincts taut and senses zinging. She owns it, commands it, nurtures it and prowls it so completely that you’d think she was born on one.
Nine years after she was here with Mandy Patinkin, her Don’t Monkey with Broadway show celebrates 45 years treading the boards in musical theatre’s epicentre – an almost unparalleled career of phenomenal range, from playing the title role in Broadway’s first Evita to becoming synonymous with Stephen Sondheim.
It’s hard to imagine this show being done better. Okay, we can quibble about some song choices (Easy to Be Hard), and occasionally about pitch and timbre, but really LuPone is so good that even when she messed up the words she made it an entertainment coup rather than a blight. Similarly, her mastery was such that she could exploit a creeping brittleness in part of her range to emotional gain, rather than it being a liability.
She began more or less chronologically (and we’re talking about someone who understudied in The Mikado aged 10), and the show was humming along agreeably until, four songs in, she unleashed the best Big Spender I’ve heard: bored, detached, robotic, underplayed and hilarious. Two songs later she had her claws in our hearts with Meadlowlark from the sadly underrated The Barker’s Wife, and then shook 50 years from her age to chew up I Cain’t Say No (Oklahoma!).
But it was the songs with Sondheim lyrics that displayed her formidable flair for toying with syllables: for letting vowels hang in the air before slicing them with consonants. The many gems included a ringing Some People (Gypsy), uproariously playing both Anita and Maria in A Boy Like That (West Side Story), a spearing Being Alive and the cocktail-in-hand clowning and wit of The Ladies Who Lunch.
She was superbly accompanied by pianist Joseph Thalken, and for several songs enjoyed the services of 15 impressive classical voice students from Sydney Conservatorium. Lucky them.