Thursday, October 21, 2004

LuPone sings her 'Heart' out

Theater review

By Jackie Demaline
Enquirer staff writer

In Matters of the Heart, one of the American musical stage's great artists, Patti LuPone, sings about love of all sorts - first love, lost love, get-out-of-here-before-I-kill-you love, even a healthy dose of lust.

An unusual entry for Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati - a solo concert with only piano and string quartet to share the stage - the love-themed concert continues at the Aronoff through Oct. 31.

If you love musical theater, you'll love this show.

LuPone moves effortlessly from show tunes to pop songs and even an art song or two.

She sings about joy and pain and melancholy and hurt. She pinches your heart with Joni Mitchell's "The Last Time I Saw Richard." She can be torchy and funny, sometimes at the same time. Her rendition of the old stomp-on-my-heart standard "I Want to Be Around to Pick Up the Pieces" gets a priceless, revenge-is-bliss re-interpretation from LuPone.

She's been singing Stephen Sondheim in the last few years. LuPone shakes loose any listener's memories of what went wrong with own loves with his "Not a Day Goes By" and closes out the first act with a diva's version of his show-stopper "Being Alive."

She rocks through "Easy to Be Hard," finds every ounce of Randy Newman's irony in "Better Off Dead" and mesmerizes with a quiet and powerful "Air That I Breathe."

LuPone is a virtuoso. We know that from her many milestone Broadway roles, culminating in her Evita, the stuff of legend.

Her song interpretation can be breathtaking; her range sounds as good as it did when she had her breakout roles almost 30 years ago; she has a star's presence.

(Although the Aronoff feels particularly cavernous when not filled with big sets and a full company of dazzlingly costumed singers and dancers, and merely by one small woman's star power.)

Matters of the Heart is not for every Broadway in Cincinnati consumer. It is, in fact, almost the antithesis of the touring Broadway experience, which its fans reasonably expect - big musicals, usually revivals with a familiar score. When the series has ventured off the formula in the past, it's usually to the blare of Stomp! or Blast!

This is a show that demands its audience listen and think. You probably won't know all the songs, but they're all interesting and worth your attention.

One of the most pleasing things about the concert is the way it plays out as a musical conversation that feels like a heart-to-heart with a good (and extraordinarily talented) friend.

LuPone doesn't go in for chitchat. She doesn't do much in the way of working the audience during the 90-minute show - 45-minute first act, 30-minute second act. She lets her song list do the talking, and that may not be enough for an audience accustomed to cozier performers.

The powerhouse numbers are mostly in the first act, although it's a pleasure to listen to her swing through old and newer standards such as "Hello, Young Lovers" and "Time After Time" in the second.

Matters of the Heart, through Oct. 31, Aronoff Center Procter & Gamble Hall, Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati, 241-7469.


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