Patti LuPone is a Broadway baby, and Broadway musicals aren't famous for subtlety. Wednesday night in Overture Hall, LuPone presented a few gentle interludes, but mainly the performance was one gigantic climax after another. That could have been exhausting to watch, but she threw in a lot of self-deprecating shtick, which helped make the show just the right size. It was a delight.
In the evening's first half, comedy predominated. Accompanied by pianist Joseph Thalken, LuPone, wearing a black, flowing jumpsuit, broke the audience up with funny tunes like "I Regret Everything" and Stephen Sondheim's "The Madam's Song." She sang "C'est Magnifique" with a merry Chevalier growl, and a highlight was the vengeful "I Want to Be Around," which she delivered in droll staccato phrases punctuated with shrieking and flailing.
Singers risk tedium in performing the longish story song "Frankie and Johnny," but Lupone's take was spruced up by a resourceful arrangement that shifted between soulful swing and jubilant march. There were quiet numbers, too. "The Man I Love" was dramatic, and "Calling You," from Bagdad Cafe, was somber indeed.
In the second half, LuPone turned to show tunes. The audience applauded as Thalken played the opening notes of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," and LuPone, now wearing a sparkly gown, gave a solemn rendition of her signature song. At the end, she let a few mournful moments pass, then deadpanned: "That was 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina,' from Evita. I played Evita." That got a big laugh. Also getting big laughs was the evening's best number, the melodramatic duet "A Boy Like That," from West Side Story. She sang both parts, frenetically. I've never seen anything like it.
LuPone found moments of delicacy in ballads like "As Long as He Needs Me" and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," but she concluded them with soaring, stagy finishes that made the audience gasp. "Everything's Coming Up Roses" was suitably bouncy and flamboyant, and it was followed by some amusing ad libbing about a backstage snafu. Some fans inexplicably began blowing, causing the curtains - and LuPone's dress - to billow. A high-strung diva might have staged a meltdown, but LuPone, a trouper, gamely went with it, bantering with a stagehand and dropping one-liners.
She began the encore with a breathtaking, shattering "The Ladies Who Lunch," from Sondheim's Company. Then came the only big miscue: a rendition of the Bee Gees' "Nights on Broadway," sung to a canned disco accompaniment. The choice seemed tacky, and the vocals were lost in the mix. Still, it was fun to watch LuPone dance.
The encore continued with a wistful "September Song," and she enlivened "The Way You Look Tonight" with a simple, endearing bit of stagecraft. Using a disposable flash camera, she photographed the audience throughout the song, then tossed the device to a grateful fan.
For all the splash that had gone before, LuPone's conclusion was marvelously understated. Unaccompanied and unamplified, she presented "A Hundred Years From Today" as a kind of benediction. "Laugh and sing, make love the thing, be happy while you may," she crooned. It was a moment of stillness and beauty.