NEW YORK (AP) — Here's a typical reaction after catching Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin's concert show now on Broadway: Oh, that's how it's done.
In other words, that's how songs by Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Kern or Rodgers and Hammerstein should sound. That's how two veteran performers can keep you spellbound with no props except a pair of rolling chairs and some floor lamps. That's how a concert can be both intimate and goofy, touching and confident.
To watch "An Evening With Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin," which opened Monday at the Barrymore Theatre, is to witness two people so comfortable on stage and so at ease with each other and the material that it doesn't look like they're working. (They are, though, just watch Patinkin mop his brow at several points). They're like a glamorous couple taking the curves on the Corniche in a purring Italian sports car.
The show is basically a series of songs connected by theme that celebrate the careers and friendship of LuPone and Patinkin, who have remained close since they were cast in the original "Evita" in the late 1970s, he as Che and she as Eva Peron.
Their voices are still strong and their chemistry evident — Patinkin's deep, passionate tones match his partner's playful skill. Even standing still and staring at her, he radiates a power and a partnership. LuPone, meanwhile, often approaches her songs sideways, giving them new, spicy texture.
The first half leans on "South Pacific," and the second has multiple songs from "Carousel," ''Merrily We Roll Along" and "Evita." Sprinkled throughout are book scenes, dances and a touching moment when Patinkin embraces his partner and explains how they met.
The transitions between songs (to take just two, "Getting Married Today" from "Company" morphs into "Loving You" from "Passion" and "I Have a Room Above Her" from "Show Boat," which brilliantly melds into "Baby It's Cold Outside" from "Neptune's Daughter")adds a new twist to songs, making this a sort of master class.
LuPone and Patinkin have also put down a marker to any pretenders out there. Patinkin, who also directs, turns "The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues" into a roaring tour de force that can be heard down the road at the Marquis Theatre, where "Follies" is currently playing. Hugh Jackman might note Patinkin's funny take on "I Won't Dance," which Wolverine also attempts in his concert show but not nearly as well. And heaven help the folks from the upcoming revival of "Evita" — LuPone sings "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" so powerfully that she is reduced to tears. Good luck following that.
This dynamic, Tony Award-winning duo remind us of some wonderful songs, among them "Somewhere That's Green" from "Little Shop of Horrors" and "Old Folks" from "70, Girls, 70." They also hit the standards we've come to expect, including "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from "Gypsy" and "You'll Never Walk Alone" from "Carousel." (Unfortunately, Patinkin doesn't offer his take on "Children Will Listen").
LuPone and Patinkin are joined on stage by Paul Ford, who helped conceive the show with Patinkin and plays piano, and John Beal on bass. The set itself is just a projection screen that glows rich colors in synch with the moods of the songs, and a couple dozen randomly placed floor lamps with exposed bulbs.
In one highlight that ends Act 1, LuPone and Patinkin sing "April in Paris," which then effortlessly switches to "April in Fairbanks" as they sit on two rolling office chairs and then proceed to dance in them before shooting across the stage in tandem. (Ann Reinking is the dance consultant). It's simple, funny and winning.
The last song listed is "You'll Never Walk Alone" from "Carousel," but don't get up just yet. LuPone and Patinkin aren't done, so expect an encore or two. Any why not? When you're this good, this strong, this playful, a few extra songs is a pleasure to perform and hear.