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Patti Lupone returns to nightclub scene

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP   |   April 24, 2004 at 7:14 AM
NEW YORK, April 24 (UPI) -- Patti Lupone is returning to the club scene after an absence of 25 years taken up by a trans-Atlantic career as a star of the musical comedy stage that took off in 1979 with her now legendary performance as Evita Peron in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Evita."

Lupone retired from cabaret after singing nightly at the now defunct Les Mouches club after her tour-de-force performance in "Evita," but now she's back, packing them into Feinstein's at the Regency with a show titled "The Lady With the Torch."

She's still too hot to cool down after her performance in the Encores' production of Cole Porter's "Can-Can" at City Center earlier this season, so she's taking the opportunity to salute some of her show business idols, mostly torch singers, including Helen Morgan, Judy Garland and Edith Piaf.

Famous for her stentorian soprano, Lupone keeps a lid on volume in the not overly large Feinstein's after an ebullient entrance number, "By Myself," Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz's paean to self-sufficiency. Her strong face and personality is softened by her attire -- a full black skirt worn with a very feminine white blouse with wrist ruffles and white net gloves.

The program is a mix of familiar and not-so-familiar songs (ever hear of Warwick Webster's "A Man in a Raincoat"?). Most are associated with the great ladies of torch, which Webster's dictionary defines as a plaintive popular ballad expressing unhappiness in love. Nothing suits the definition better than the Jule Styne-Sammy Cahn classic, "I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry," Lupone's weepiest number.

Another number, Stan Kenton's "I Had a Little Sorrow," has lyrics penned in 1918 by the famous flapper age poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay," who admits up front "I've been a wicked girl." And if you want to know what happened to that little cottage, just built for two, Lupone tells the sad story in Willard Robinson's "A Cottage for Sale," a song dripping with nostalgia.

She's at her torch-carrying best in Harold Arlen's "Ill Wind," which is given a very passionate rendition, to be followed by a more straightforward presentation of Sigmund Romberg's antidote for the blues, "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise," with its optimistic lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. And for the gal who is out for revenge, Lupone gives a swinging account of Ted Snyder's "Who's Sorry Now?"

Lupone sings with a lot of heart, reserving a specially big serving for the tragic love story told by Fred Karger in "Frankie and Johnny" and Johnny Mercer's "I Wanna Be Around." Perhaps her most beautifully articulated performance is of George and Ira Gershwin's "The Man I Love" that has the audience hanging on every word no matter how familiar.

Cole Porter's "C'est Magnifique" puts a tiger into Lupone's voice, and she even squeezed a man teasingly at a ringside table on opening night as she sang this song from "Can-Can" that became a staple of Edith Piaf's repertory. A natural follow-up is Porter's "I Love Paris" from the same show, another Piaf anthem that inspires Lupone to vocal grandeur.

The show was conceived and directed by Scott Wittman and pianist Dick Gallagher is Lupone's superb accompanist.

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