It was an astoundingly rich weekend for concerts in Washington as Broadway icon Patti LuPone brought her cabaret act to the University of Maryland campus Saturday night and Metropolitan Community Church of Washington held a 9-11 memorial concert Sunday afternoon.
LuPone’s concert was simple and stupefyingly effective — accompanist Joseph Thalken was note perfect, the leading lady herself was in astoundingly good voice and the whoppingly generous set list (see below), which showcased dozens of 20th century show standards, was exquisitely selected, sequenced and executed. LuPone, looking and sounding decades younger than her 62 years and much slimmer and more youthful than her promo photos for the concert suggested, brought an interpretive prowess that easily showed how deserving she is of the legendary status she’s attained. It was a dream evening — the material is so well loved and proven, there was no chance of a dud there. And with LuPone in such flawlessly fine form, it was one of those life-altering-kind of nights where the planets perfectly aligned and material and musicians coalesced brilliantly.
The premise of the show — dubbed “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” — is a hodge-podge of signature songs LuPone either has, or would have loved to have, played. Most were the latter. LuPone’s appearance was pegged to the college’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s 10th anniversary. A finer and more appropriate talent for the occasion surely couldn’t have been found.
There were also a few mid-centry standards (“My Way,” “The Way You Look Tonight”) thrown in for good measure. My only mini-qualm — and I know this was a bitter career pill for LuPone — was the absence of anything from “Sunset Blvd.” She’s never forgiven Andrew Lloyd Weber for throwing her under the bus when the show came to the U.S., but even so, she’s strongly identified with the role and it would have been thrilling to hear her sing “As If We Never Said Goodbye” live. Technically it’s her song since she originated the role on stage. And she’s an infinitely better singer than Glenn Close.
But that’s quibbling. Overall it was great with LuPone’s playful, self-deprecating mood and quips adding immeasurably to the music. Standouts included sublime performances of “Meadowlark,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and several Sondheim staples. Her signature “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” started out tongue in cheeck (she glanced at her watch in her trademark arms-upstretched pose as if the song bored her to tears) but once it got rolling, she settled into it and rendered a magical rendition in which she toyed and tinkered with her inflections and phrasing, giving the warhorse fresh blood.
Sunday’s MCC concert was bittersweet. Certainly its 9-11 impetus lent the proceedings a somberness of tone but with few mentions to the attacks, the concert felt more like a great afternoon of music than a depressing ode to the victims. Some selections, like the rafter-raising “You’re an Awesome God” (not the Rich Mullins classic) and the breezy pop classic “I Can See Clearly Now,” were downright joyous.
There’s so much musical talent in that church, it’s almost an embarrassment of riches. Sadly the many capable soloists weren’t mentioned in the program notes. A trio of newer male singers were especially good, but a handful of long-time female members were equally great on their respective solos, such as Lisa Carroll, Tonya Harper and Michelle Lanchester on the grand finale, “The Lord is My Shepherd.” It’s the classic Cissy Houston arrangement from “The Preacher’s Wife.” It’s good on the soundtrack, but Lanchester and the choir take the number into a stratosphere only hinted at on the original film version. It’s become a signature number for the choir and they sounded every bit as great on it yesterday as they did three years ago at activist Cheryl Spector’s funeral. They recorded it themselves a few years back but it sounds so much better live.
Aside from the 9-11 angle, the concert was also bittersweet as music minister Shirli Hughes has announced she’s leaving the church by year’s end. As with former minister Candace Shultis, an MCC-DC without Hughes is difficult to imagine, so essential have her contributions been to the church for the last 10 years. Her musical supremacy was again on display yesterday on her two solos — a lovely rendition of “The Lord’s Prayers” and the jazzy, upright bass-accompanied original “Among the Trees,” which Hughes wrote.
Also worth noting are a bounty of instrumentalists that added immeasurably to the proceedings. A small string section added lovely color to several numbers while the church’s uber-tight rhythm section gave its usual muscle and energy to the lively worship.
LuPone’s set was:
1. Opening monologue/medley
2. “An English Teacher” from “Bye Bye Birdie”
3. “I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy” from “South Pacific”
4. “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from “Funny Girl”
5. “Easy to be Hard” from “Hair”
6. “You Musn’t Be Discouraged” from “Fade Out, Fade In”
7. “Meadowlark” from “The Baker’s Wife”
8. “A Boy Like That”/”I Have a Love” from “West Side Story”
9. “A Quiet Thing” from “Flora the Red Menace”
10. “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from “Gypsy”
11. “Never Never Land” from “Peter Pan”
12. “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” from “Evita”
13. “I Was Here” from “The Glorious Ones”
14. “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” from “Oklahoma”
15. “Trouble (Ya Got Trouble)” from “The Music Man”
16. “So in Love” (Cole Porter)
17. “How to Handle a Woman” from “Camelot”
18. “Sleepy Man” from “The Robber Bridegroom”
19. “As Long as He Needs Me” from “Oliver”
20. “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” from “Pal Joey”
21. “I Never Do Anything Twice” (“The Madame’s Song”) from “The Seven Per Cent Solution”
22. “Anyone Can Whistle” from “Anyone Can Whistle”
23. “Send in the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music”
24. “Being Alive” from “Company”
25. “My Way”
26. “The Ladies Who Lunch” from “Company”
27. “September Song” from “Knickerbocker Holiday”
28. “The Way You Look Tonight”
29. “A Hundred Years From Today”
MCC’s set was:
1. “Rain On Us”
2. “The Lord’s Prayer”
3. “Air on the G String”
4. Shostakovich piano prelude
5. “This Morning I Rose Up”
6. “You’re An Awesome God”
7. “Mighty God Praise”/”Mighty God”
8. “Breathe On Me”
9. “I Call You Holy”
10. “I Can See Clearly Now”
11. “God’s Truth”
12. “It Is Well”
13. “Among the Trees”
14. “The Lord Is My Shepherd”