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Cabaret review: Patti LuPone – Don’t Monkey with Broadway

Cabaret Festival

Patti LuPone, Broadway performer for more than 40 years, strides onto the Festival Theatre stage with a sense of ownership which tells the audience she is completely at home with her music.

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She immediately swings into the show’s title song, “Don’t Monkey with Broadway”, setting the tone for an evening which lauds the era when the prolific talents of composers such as Rodgers & Hart, Jule Styne, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim brought theatrical joy to New York and beyond.

LuPone’s love for the genre stems from recalling her 10-year-old self when she was entranced by Kate Smith “with the big voice” on TV and realised that she, too, with her mother’s musical theatre LPs as inspiration, had a voice that could carry her onto Broadway.

This show gives LuPone an opportunity to offer samples of the great musical theatre songbook, well known and less familiar, all delivered with panache and style.

It is an easy comparison to liken her delivery to that of Judy Garland or even Ethel Merman, but the “big voice” is also tempered with tenderness, humour and wistfulness.  After all, Patti LuPone has been making musical theatre her own since the 1970s, and 40 years later she is about to travel to London to star again in Sondheim’s Company.

In this show, she was accompanied by a truly mesmerising and gifted pianist, while the second half of the show also introduced a wonderful local choir which provided rousing backing to songs like “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” and “Blow Gabriel Blow”, as well as sensitive harmonies to “Sleepy Man” from The Robber Bridegroom.

LuPone doesn’t always go for the obvious interpretations.  She likes to handle the best song – even if it’s written for the male lead (“Something’s Coming”) or as a duet (“A Boy Like That”) but she is certainly equal to the belting female ballad, as we saw with the stirring first-half closer “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”.

By contrast, the finale saw her bring on the choir for a quiet and reflective song performed without a microphone.  The warmth of the audience response brought her second encore when she was alone on the stage and sang a capella, bringing hushed delight to her many admirers in the audience before a storm of applause brought them once again to their feet for an appreciative and enthusiastic ovation.

The opportunity to experience the world of an authentic Broadway star had been a rare privilege.

Patti LuPone performed for one night only as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. See more festival coverage here.

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