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LA Theater Review

An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin

An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin
When television variety specials were in their heyday, Broadway superstars were sometimes paired to such spectacular effect that the shows became legendary: The Ford 50th Anniversary Show, starring Mary Martin and Ethel Merman (1953), and Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall, starring Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett (1962). That sort of magical chemistry comes to mind in this smashing collaboration between two celebrated actor-singers who first co-starred in Evita (1980), each winning a Tony.

Peppered by three sequences that mix dialogue and songs from great Broadway musicals, this touring vehicle demonstrates not only the musical virtuosity of Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin but their incomparable acting chops as well. Beyond their acumen in dramatic scenes, these champion entertainers act their songs as much as sing them. LuPone satisfies audience expectation by delivering bravura renditions of "Everything's Coming Up Roses," from her Tony-winning role in the Gypsy revival, and "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," her signature number from Evita. Yet neither performer settles for a greatest-hits cavalcade here. For example, there's nary a tune from Patinkin's unforgettable Sunday in the Park With George.

The bill of fare emphasizes Rodgers and Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim, augmented by gems from Kander and Ebb, Jerome Kern, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, Frank Loesser, and others. If not quite a crash course in Broadway musicals, this is a delectable sampling of styles and moods. The three centerpieces are terrific excerpts from Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific and Carousel and Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along. Who cares if these performers tackle characters much younger than themselves? The make-believe works beautifully as they sink their teeth into transcendent material.

Never does this show, directed by Patinkin, feel like a vanity showcase. It's warm, gracious, and respectful of the classic music and lyrics. The broad physical shtick of Patinkin's "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues" (from Follies) sidesteps overkill, dazzling in its dexterity. LuPone gets her turn to pull out all stops in "Getting Married Today" (from Company); this frenetic comic number has never been funnier. Melancholy ballads (LuPone's "A Quiet Thing") and forceful duets ("If I Loved You") are delivered with equal panache. When the pair launches into Irving Berlin's joyous "You're Just in Love" (from Call Me Madam) during the curtain call, it was like a clarion call, summing up the glorious legacy of Broadway.

Salutes are also due Ann Reinking's stylish choreography and the superb accompaniment by Paul Ford on piano and John Beal on bass.

Presented by Center Theatre Group at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A. June 2329. Mon.–Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (213) 628-2772.

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