Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
June 23, 2018

The Sydney audience wasted no time in showing how it feels about legendary Broadway diva Patti LuPone, with a large section of the house giving her a standing ovation as soon as she stepped onto the stage. There had already been laughter and applause at the message to switch off all phones – recognition of LuPone halting the show during Gypsy to demand an audience member stop taking photographs, and removing the phone from someone during the comedy Shows for Days after they had been repeatedly texting.

So here we were, phones off, and ready for a show that more than lived up to high expectations. Don’t Monkey With Broadway, named after a 1940 Cole Porter song, is essentially a love letter to Broadway in which LuPone sings an exciting selection of numbers from shows she’s starred in, as well as roles she’d love to have done, and numbers she simply adores regardless of the age or gender of the character they were written for.

Patti LuPone. Photo © Rahav Iggy Segev / Photopass.com

We also get an insight into the background of the Long Island-born, Northport Public School system performer, who was still a young child when she fell in love with “the big voice” of American singer Kate Smith, and knew even then that Broadway was her calling. After studying in the first Juilliard Drama division with Kevin Kline among others, she toured in plays, performed with David Mamet’s company and, in fact, made her Broadway debut in a drama ­– no wonder she brings such a strong acting dimension to her musical theatre performances.

Don’t Monkey With Broadway showcases her consummate skill as a performer: her thrilling vocal range, her innate, easy stage presence, the way she shapes the emotional arc of a song, her ability to tell stories, and the inimitable way she nails a comic punchline. Forty years since she shot to international fame as Eva Perón in Evita on Broadway (a role she also performed in Sydney), her voice is still in remarkably good shape, the technique secure as she moves from sultry to gloriously brassy tones, exuding an almost wistful huskiness in quieter ballads and a powerful, exhilarating belt in the big, show-stopping numbers. What’s more, her diction is immaculate.

She starts the night with Cole Porter’s Please Don’t Monkey With Broadway, which she uses to reflect on the changes to the area where 42nd Street is now “the Disney wall of shame”, ticket prices are astronomical, and Times Square is full of Elmos. As for President Trump, “oh holy shit!”

Patti LuPone. Photo © Rahav Iggy Segev / Photopass.com

From there, she ranges across show tunes by the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Schwartz, Jule Styne, Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein among others, beautifully accompanied by her Musical Director Joseph Thalken on piano. Her soaring version of Meadowlark from Schwartz’s The Baker’s Wife – the show that was meant to mark her Broadway debut but which folded a few days before it hit the Great White Way – is spine-tingling. She raises the roof with a pitch-perfect version of Some People from Gypsy, and delivers a wonderfully suggestive Big Spender from Sweet Charity, replete with a hilarious bored yawn or two.

The first act also includes, among other numbers, the touching Millworker from James Taylor’s Working, a deliciously perky I’m Just a Girl Who Cain’t Say No from Oklahoma!, and a stunning version of the pulse-racing If You Hadn’t But You Did from Two on the Aisle by Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green sung by a woman about her cheating man. She finishes Act One with Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina from Evita, sung with such passion it’s almost as if you are there watching her in the show. Stunning.

In the second act, she is joined for several numbers by a choir of classical voice students from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music “slumming on Broadway tonight” as LuPone put it. Her connection with them is generous and welcoming, interacting with them as they perform Trouble from The Music Man, Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat from Guys and Dolls, and the gentle Sleepy Man from The Robber Bridegroom.

In LuPone’s desire to sing all manner of roles, she has fun performing a couple of duets by herself: Conrad and Kim’s A Lot of Livin’ To Do from Bye Bye Birdie, and A Boy Like That/I Have a Love by Anita and Maria in West Side Story (her favourite musical, she tells us) – which is brilliantly funny yet fierily spot-on. She also sings several Sondheim numbers from shows including Anyone Can Whistle, Sweeney Todd and Company, including a searing Another Hundred People and a brilliantly sour The Ladies Who Lunch. She ends the show quietly singing a capella with the choir.

The lyrics got away from her a few times in the second act, but she handled it with aplomb and humour; a minor flaw in a fabulous show. Don’t Monkey With Broadway is a thrilling way to celebrate the career of one of the greatest Broadway divas of our time. Divine.


Patti LuPone’s Don’t Monkey With Broadway plays at Canberra Theatre Centre on June 25, Queensland Conservatorium Theatre on June 27, and Arts Centre Melbourne on June 30