Broadway performers pay tribute to Patti LuPone
NEW YORK — It was a big night for Patti LuPone Monday, and she seemed to enjoy every minute of it.
During “Patti’s Turn,’’ an alternately touching and funny tribute to the musical-theater legend at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, LuPone laughed often, clapped with her hands above her head, and blew kisses to the performers and songwriters gathered in her honor.
They were a Who’s Who of Broadway, including Kristin Chenoweth, Sutton Foster, Laura Benanti, Harvey Fierstein, Boyd Gaines, Howard McGillin, and the evening’s emcee, director John Doyle. When Zoe Caldwell came onstage to speak, LuPone leapt to her feet to applaud.
The final performer was Kevin Kline, with whom LuPone had a longtime relationship in the 1970s, when they were in their 20s. As Kline sat down at the piano, he began solemnly: “When I heard that Patti had died….’’ The audience, including LuPone, roared, as Kline assumed a look of mock puzzlement. He then went on to perform the sweetly backward-looking “Try to Remember,’’ from “The Fantasticks.’’
Chenoweth, who said LuPone “changed the face of musical theater,’’ delivered a knockout version of “Glitter and Be Gay,’’ from Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide’’ (which she and LuPone had performed together at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in 2004), then segued into Meredith Willson’s gentle “Till There Was You,’’ from “The Music Man.’’
Benanti came out with one foot bare and the other in a very high heel to perform Cinderella’s “On the Steps of the Palace,’’ from Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.’’ Foster, who recently wrapped up a stint as Reno Sweeney in “Anything Goes,’’ a role LuPone played on Broadway in the 1980s, sang Sondheim’s wistful “Anyone Can Whistle,’’ then soared into “Being Alive,’’ from “Company.’’ McGillin, who played Billy Crocker opposite LuPone’s Reno Sweeney, joked that when he and LuPone performed “Anything Goes,’’ “Sutton Foster was still in her crib. And Joel Grey was just starting to collect Social Security.’’
To the tune of “Little Lamb,’’ from “Gypsy,’’ Fierstein sang a hilarious ditty that included the line “Miss LuPone, Miss LuPone, I swear that was not my phone,’’ an allusion to LuPone’s legendary eruption at an audience member who was taking photos during a performance of “Gypsy.’’
The tribute was written and directed by Doyle, who directed LuPone, as Mrs. Lovett, in the 2005 revival of “Sweeney Todd,’’ with Michael Cerveris in the title role. Manoel Felciano, who played Toby in that production, did a poignant rendition of “Not While I’m Around,’’ complete with violin. Caldwell delivered an eloquent paean to LuPone’s acting ability, focusing on the way she can command and relinquish the spotlight — “the oxygen,’’ Caldwell called it — depending on the needs of a piece and the ensemble of which she is a part.
The songwriting team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (“Hairspray”), two of the prime creative forces behind the NBC series “Smash,’’ delivered a Patti-centric, spoof version of Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top.’’ One line went: “You’re the pool/That Lloyd Webber paid for...,’’ a reference to a lucrative settlement LuPone received in a dispute with the composer over “Sunset Boulevard.’’ Gaines — who wore a spangled red jacket, playfully referred to LuPone as “P-Lu,’’ and teased her about having won only two Tony Awards compared to his four — told a long and naughty story involving a tattoo, in which Lloyd Webber was also the punchline.
“Patti’s Turn’’ was presented by the Acting Company, a classical repertory company that LuPone and Kline helped found after they graduated as part of the first class of Juilliard’s drama division. The founding members of the Acting Company toured the US for several years in the 1970s.
Another alumnus of Juilliard and the Acting Company, David Schramm, was on hand Monday night. Schramm, who played the grumpy airline owner Roy Biggins on the 1990s TV series “Wings,’’ recalled the electrifying effect LuPone created during her days at Juilliard, when a roomful of performers would fall silent at the sound of her voice. He said that back then, when he wrote home about her, he summed her up in one word: “WOW.’’
When LuPone took the stage, she gave emotional thanks to all the performers, to Doyle, and to the Acting Company for helping her to build a career. Then, of course, she sang. Her choice was steeped in nostalgia: “September Song,’’ by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson.Don Aucoin can be reached at email@example.com