Friday, June 21, 2013

concert review PATTI LUPONE and the NJSO, June 2

For all of the intensity Patti LuPone is known for bringing to her performances it is almost equally matched with the joy she exudes when performing with an orchestra.  Watching Patti sing with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in a concert version of her cabaret show "Far Away Places" brought a smile to your face watching the fun and excitement Patti had performing with this large orchestra.

Patti says she's always considered herself to be a "gypsy" and one who has "wanderlust" so an evening about songs that are set all over the world seemed like a perfect fit for LuPone to tell us about herself, her journeys and her experiences in far away places.  With a heavy focus on Kurt Weill, the selection of material was eclectic yet still provided a good mix of serious songs, humorous character pieces and a few show tunes as well.

This show was one that Patti originally premiered last summer during the inaugural opening weeks of the hit new cabaret spot 54 Below in New York.  But there she was only accompanied by a small group of musicians so you can easily understand why Patti is having such a grand time when singing these songs with such a large orchestra.  Fortunately, she is having just as fun performing these songs and singing with the NJSO as we are listening to her sing them.

"Gypsy in my Soul" is the perfect song to start off the evening as the lyrics expertly set up the idea of someone with wanderlust.  Patti's voice soared throughout with a final note that practically tore the roof off the State Theatre.  "Far Away Places" by Alex Kramer and Joan Whitney is a joyous yet quiet song that has similar lyrics to "Gypsy in my Soul" but it also moves Patti's journey along with simple lyrics of these far away places calling to come see them for yourself.  Patti's understated but direct delivery of the song is a testament to her ability to get the meaning of even a simple, sweet and understated song across.  A swinging version of Willie Nelson's "Night Life" provided Patti a springboard to speak about the fact that "the night life ain't no good life, but it's my life."

There is plenty of serious material in the show including several Weill songs.  A loose yet direct version of "Bilbao Song" that Patti sings after speaking about the way New York used to be when Times Square was a little more dirty than it is today, perfectly echoes the memories that one thinks they remember from the past.  Weill's "September Song" receives a superlative treatment as does his "Pirate Jenny".   "Jenny" is delivered in the middle of a series of water themed songs that begins with a segment of Weill's "Ah the Sea is Blue" as well as Johnny Green and Edward Heyman's beautiful and romantic "I Cover the Waterfront" and Sondheim's "By the Sea" from Sweeney Todd.   Patti brings a rich, emotional intensity to this suite of songs, finding the perfect tone to make them all fit together nicely with Patti's delivery of "Pirate Jenny" the jewel in this sea set suite.

A nice pairing of two "market" songs includes the more intense "Black Market" by Frederick Hollander followed by the humorous "Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking" by Cole Porter.  Johnny Mercer's "I Wanna Be Around," which Patti dubbed "the Sicilian National anthem" after mentioning that she has Sicilian blood provided a nice touch of comedy.  Bill Burnett and Marguerite Sarlin's "I Regret Everything," which Patti has sung in some of her other shows before, was a perfect comic moment after the more serious suite of sea themed songs. 

One of Patti's encores was her second act solo "Invisible" from her recent Tony nominated performance in David Yazbek's Broadway musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.  Taken out of context of this not so well received show it actually worked better as it let you focus more on the story of the character singing the song and less about the crazy goings on in the musical around it.

Joseph Thalken orchestrated the material from Patti's cabaret show for a full orchestra and the results were breathtaking.  We've seen many concerts by the NJSO, but this eclectic selection of material showed their ability to play a wide range of songs that was almost as far from your standard selection of classic orchestra music as possible.

Patti's set was actually the second half of the concert with the NJSO performing solo for the first act of the evening that included several Rodgers and Hammerstein overtures from their shows that are set in far off lands as well as a superb suite from Rodger's Victory at Sea tv score.  A loving arrangement of Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" showcased the superb skills of the NJSO string section.  Rob Fisher expertly led the orchestra for both acts.  "Far Away Places" was conceived and directed by Scott Wittman and this version, with a full orchestra is also set to be presented at Carnegie Hall in November.

Playbill highlights video from Patti's 54 Below concert of this show:

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