NEW YORK — Before the pianist and bassist strike the first notes of “An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin,” the thought occurs that the sizable Ethel Barrymore Theatre, where the new revue formally opened Monday night, might not be large enough to contain the flammable personalities of two of Broadway’s most famously idiosyncratic stars.
The worries evaporate, though, the moment the Tony-winning LuPone and Patinkin launch into the first of the more than 30 Broadway melodies that make up this buoyantly sophisticated night of show music, a night steadied by the suave direction of Patinkin himself.
What’s constructed here is an evening in which the singers reveal how the songs of composers like Richard Rodgers, Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Kern and Alan Menken not only speak to us, but to one another as well. It’s an elegant, at times whimsical mix and match; Patinkin, for instance, re-interprets the comical “Somewhere That’s Green” from “Little Shop of Horrors” as a ballad of wistful longing, which is followed immediately by LuPone’s richly plaintive rendering of Sondheim’s “In Buddy’s Eyes” from “Follies.” The conversations LuPone and Patinkin carry on through song — they fashion imaginatively communicative cycles of music from “South Pacific,” “Merrily We Roll Along” and “Carousel” — replace the arch, audience-directed banter in which stars of such productions often feel they must engage. (See “Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway.”) Patinkin talks directly to us only once, to reminisce about meeting LuPone 30 years ago when both were cast in “Evita.”
LuPone’s “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from that show comes across as a charismatic blast from the past. It’s delivered here with an older singer’s finer grasp of the character’s insecure hold on her public. All evening, in fact, LuPone inclines toward exhibitions of gentleness rather than power. This is a becoming facet of her talent; she doesn’t attempt to compete with Patinkin’s eccentrically alpha-male stylings, so they create some lovely, contrasting pairings.
Singing amid a forest of ghost lights, and engagingly accompanied by music director Paul Ford on piano and John Beal on bass, LuPone and Patinkin manage to feel entirely forward-looking, even as they dip exhilaratingly back into the past.