Saturday, December 09, 2006

It's astounding, time is fleeting…

…madness takes its toll. And boy, did it!

Based on a glowing recommendation from my colleague Adam Feldman, I dropped by Joe's Pub Friday evening to check out Leslie Kritzer Is Patti LuPone at Les Mouches, an unwieldy title that turned out to hide a dynamite show, as Ed Sullivan would put it.

The basic concept is that Kritzer reproduces Patti LuPone's last set at Les Mouches, a Chelsea boîte where Patti held a Saturday residency for 30 weeks in 1980—performing right after appearing in Evita on Broadway. Oddly, this is the second show I've seen in the past couple of months where a performer has turned a nominal homage into a memorable, completely original evening. And Kritzer had set herself a challenge even bigger than the one Terese Genecco faced in her tribute to Frances Faye, because Genecco dealt with Faye in general, telling the audience about her subject's life for instance; Kritzer, however, is reproducing a particular set's song list and banter, making it trickier to both avoid simply mimicking her model and put her own stamp on the material. That she delivers the most high-octane performance I've seen in ages must be credited to her powerhouse voice, interpretative chops and deadly comic timing—and those are her own and nobody else's.

Making her grand entrance with "She's a Latin from Manhattan," Kritzer hilariously emphasized LuPone's tendency to slur lyrics into complete unintelligibility, but she dropped the strict emulation quickly and somehow managed to appropriate songs indelibly associated with Her Royal Pattiness, like "Meadowlark" and "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina."

A side result of listening to this recreation is that I was once again struck by the porous barriers between genres in 1980. Patti was doing "Love for Sale" but also "Superman" and "Because the Night," rock songs that were newish at the time—compare this to contemporary cabaret artists who pat themselves on the back for dipping into the back catalogs of Randy Newman, Laura Nyro or Joni Mitchell. And let's not forget the time-warp experience of "Heaven Is a Disco," a 1977 song by Paul Jabara—author of the immortal "Last Dance" and "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)"—that suddenly turned Joe's into Studio 54.

After looking her up, I realized that I had actually seen Kritzer before—in a 2000 revival of Godspell at the Theater at St Peter's that also starred then-unknowns Barrett Foa and Capathia Jenkins. I can't honestly say I had singled out Kritzer at the time, essentially because the entire cast of that zippy production was surprisingly good.

And while we're on the subject of Patti LuPone, I may have to check out Jet Blue's fares: She and Audra McDonald are starring in Brecht and Weill's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at Los Angeles Opera in February/March; even better, the production is directed by John Doyle, who excellently staged Sweeney Todd on Broadway last year (and, granted, is less successful in the current revival of Company).

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