Patti LuPone

Far Away Places
Live at 54 Below

Broadway Records
The multi-award-winning Patti LuPone has made no secret of the fact that she loves the nightlife. (“Come on, I survived the ‘70s!”) Armed with a truckload of awards from major successes on Broad- way and concert stages of the world, she admits a personal love of the intimate stage. Hence, she was the most obvious choice to open what was coined “Broadway’s Nightclub”—the biggest thing to happen on the cabaret scene in eons. 54 Below is the lush, speakeasy-style basement below Studio 54 and set the perfect stage for LuPones’s return to cabaret. All the magic of that engagement is caught on this disc from Broadway Records.

Far Away Places is the act that made her (and the club) the toast of the town. The show was a musical collage of travels and experiences throughout her career, with an emphasis on the light side fused with some pretty dark stuff, which she pulls off at her drama queen best. The CD captures the adrenaline rush that changed cabaret and the Manhattan tapestry after dark.

The show didn’t rest on past laurels. Nor was it a medley of show tune hits. It followed a cohesive through line based on various junkets, her love of travel and professional hiccups along the way. She set the stage opening with a robust “Gypsy in My Soul” which segued into Willie Nelson’s smoky “Nightlife.” With brilliant Musical Director Joseph Thalken leading the hot band, the show flowed with conviction and verve. LuPone is a commanding diva whose honesty with a lyric can be shattering. Without losing any of its humor, she finds new ways to act and sing the eclectic song list. She can tear your heart out with an exquisite “I Cover the Waterfront” or “Far Away Places.” Like everything else, she makes them compelling. Yet, with such a powerful delivery throughout her set, some songs sound like encores. Always the pro, this takes away nothing. There’s a heartfelt treatment of Piaf’s “Hymn to Love.” Her trademark raw truthfulness peaked. It is a quality few singers can expose. On both, she displayed a vulnerability that was trenchant. More of this might be welcome as she is so effective in those touching moments. She shows an affinity for Kurt Weill through haunting songs that she handles with an old world thespian’s art comparable to Lotte Lenya. She nails such caustic phrasing with earthy ease and they are highlights. These included “Bilbao Song,” “Ah, the Sea Is Blue,” “Pirate Jenny” and “September Song.” Scattered through the act, they offered the show’s most profound moments. Other standouts included a buoyant “Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking” and a zippy “Nights on Broadway” that succinctly wrapped up this memorable hour. It’s all caught on this terrific collector's album. Patti LuPone is a brassy, honest, one-of-a-kind performer in today’s world of cookie-cutter artists who pass for award winners. Cabaret is lucky to have her back.

John Hoglund
Cabaret Scenes
June 1, 2013
www.cabaretscenes.org