Tuesday October 16, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- The scene was very much a love fest, as Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin came to town Sunday evening to illuminate a gala benefit at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center.

The show, "An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin," was developed by Patinkin and his musical director and pianist, Paul Ford, about a decade ago and has landed intermittently in various spots around the nation, including Broadway.

Considerably more than a mere cabaret effort, "The Patti and Mandy Show," as the two principals abbreviate it, was the first to unite them since their original pairing in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Tim Rice’s landmark musical "Evita" -- she as Eva Peron, he as Che Guevara. The friendship developed there was deep and although each is happily married, their obvious affection for each other elevates platonic relationship to a new pinnacle.

And what better way to celebrate this solid bond than with 90 uninterrupted minutes of some of the best music written for the stage, from Sondheim, Rodgers & Hammerstein and a few others.

LuPone, attired in a light purple wrap-around gown with fitted bodice and stylish high heels, and Patinkin, all in black with comfortable open shirt, shared some cozy and funny duets, and allowed each other moments alone on a stage that David Korins had adorned with various chairs, often cunningly employed as props, and a mini-forest of "ghost" lights. Ford presided sympathetically at stage right before a small upright piano, assisted by bassist John Miller.

LuPone, especially in marking a 40-year career on the stage, is in splendid vocal shape, able to soar to a lovely top on emotional ballads and to belt out the heaviest torch songs with equal ease. She is a smart singer who knows exactly how to support her solidly placed vocal instrument, and to do it with impeccable phrasing.

Her best moments were manifold, but the rendition of "Everything’s Coming Up Roses" made the listener long for her complete portrayal of Mama Rose in "Gypsy," and in her custody, "If I Loved You" from "Carousel" was gorgeous.

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Patinkin also tendered some fine moments, although his curious method of vocal production is displaying signs of wear on either end of his range. The winsome falsetto, so appealing earlier, if employed at all now, is clipped quickly, as he tended to do in the "Twin Soliloquies" he shared with LuPone in their "South Pacific" segment. His contribution to the reprise of "If I Loved You" wobbled with problems of intonation, and tended to invite comparisons with some of the great baritones who have portrayed Billy Bigelow, including John Raitt, in the original Broadway cast, and Gordon MacRae, in the film.

Patinkin, however, affirmed his superb showmanship in a tour-de-force performance of "The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues" from Stephen Sondheim’s "Follies."

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The show included clutches of songs from specific shows, and the accompanying dialogue was interesting and cogent. Patinkin and Ford also managed to assemble beautifully seamless continuity as one segment flowed right into another -- R&H to Sondheim to Kander and Ebb -- effortlessly.

Of course, they did not forget the big show that brought them together. And, if the mind’s ear serves us faithfully about those initial performances in Los Angeles, Patinkin’s forceful execution of "Oh What a Circus" and LuPone’s plaintive treatment of "Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina" have lost none of their luster over those 33 years.

As noted, the show is far more than a stand-up cabaret act, with manageable choreography from Ann Reinking that included a hilarious series of journeys in office chairs, as well as some light touches of footwork, subtle mood-appropriate stage and backdrop lighting by a team of lighting supervisors and unobtrusive sound mixing by Mark Fiore that was never distorted.

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Incidental intelligence: John Hoyt Stookey, a gentleman who joined the Mahaiwe board soon after Lola Jaffe began her quest to restore the century-old theater more than 10 years ago, was honored with plaques from the governor and both houses of the state legislature, presented by Rep. "Smitty" Pignatelli, with a beaming Jaffe and Beryl Jolly, the Mahaiwe’s executive director, standing by on stage prior to the concert. 

Sunday’s gala raised a reported $80,000 for the center’s John Hoyt Stookey Fund for Programmatic Excellence.