Last night George Mason University’s annual Arts by George! benefit outdid itself as they had Broadway legend and TV star Patti LuPone headline their gala event. LuPone, whose credits span the Broadway stage, film, TV, opera, and various recordings, performed songs from all the roles that she ever wanted to do in her aptly-titled cabaret – Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda – for an enthusiastic crowd.
Arts by George! is a college-wide event held to benefit student scholarships in Art, Dance, Music, Theater, Arts Management, Computer Game Design, and Film and Video Studies in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, as well as the Center for the Arts Great Performances at Mason season. So to celebrate this 9th annual event, George Mason University invited Broadway legend Patti LuPone. LuPone, famous for her Tony Award-winning performance as Eva Peron in the original Broadway production of Evita” as well as for her Tony Award-winning turn as Mama Rose in the recent Broadway revival of Gypsy, is nothing if not a Broadway legend. Tonight’s concert amply showcased her unique and powerful vocal abilities and true star quality.
Sticking close to her Broadway roots, LuPone opened the concert with the song “Broadway” from the musical Gypsy, setting the tone for the rest of the evening, with her powerful, brassy voice booming to the rafters. From there, she took the audience on a musical journey through her road to Broadway, singing “An English Teacher” from Bye Bye Birdie, and “A Wonderful Guy” from South Pacific, as well as songs from some of the shows she wanted roles in when she was younger —including a rousing rendition of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl and “Easy to Be Hard” from Hair. Hearing LuPone sing these standards is a master class in musical theater—the control she has over her voice is apparent, as she effectively controls dynamics and the force of her voice to bring the audience in to the story of the song and make them feel exactly what she wants them to feel. For example, LuPone sang most of “A Wonderful Guy” softly and lightly, until the very end when the character singing the song proclaims her love, and then LuPone suddenly (and excellently) becomes very exuberant and forceful, helping the audience to feel the love and joy of the character.
LuPone also demonstrated her masterful acting skills (she was a member of the first graduating class of Julliard’s Drama Division) as she brought songs like “Meadowlark” from The Baker’s Wife and “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company to life.
As fantastic a singer as LuPone is, the night really came to life in those spots when she departed from the scripted patter—at those times the audience was really able to feel connected to her and to the performance. She rapped a fantastic rendition of “Ya Got Trouble” from The Music Man only to flub a line because the guy she was looking at while singing made a face that threw her off—the audience howled with laughter as she picked someone else to sing to and then when she restarted and congratulated herself on getting the line right. Or when LuPone brought 18 of the George Mason University’s School of Theater students onstage to sing “Sleepy Man” from The Robber Bridegroom with her, and joked about this being the only time it was OK for the parents of the student singers to get out cell phones and take pictures. LuPone’s graciousness and sincere praise for the skill of the students, and the high quality arts program at George Mason University, only endeared her to the audience even more.
There were many great moments: “Being Alive” from Company received a loud standing ovation, “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from Evita, and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from Gypsy, among others, allowed LuPone’s distinctive brassy voice to soar, delighting the audience. Yet one of the night’s highlights was when she graciously allowed the student a capella group ‘Soundcheque‘ to perform “I’ll Be Seeing You” and the musical theater students sang “Hello Patti”—a modified version of “Hello Dolly.” Both performances, and LuPone’s praise for the students, brought down the house. To see a Broadway master at work, and future singing stars sharing the stage with her, was breathtaking.
As Patti LuPone took the audience on her journey through Broadway and the roles that she Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda played, the audience was only left thinking how lucky they were to be in attendance, so that they didn’t have to lament in the future that they “coulda, shoulda, woulda” been there! It truly was a night to remember.
Running Time: 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Patti LuPone performed Shouda, Coulda, Woulda on Saturday, September 27, 2014 at 8 PM at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts – 4373 Mason Pond Drive, in Fairfax, VA. For upcoming events at The Center for the Arts, check their calendar.
Patti LuPone’s official website.
A chronology of Patti LuPone’s theater career.
A Chat with Patti LuPone on ‘Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda’ on September 27th, 2014 at ‘Arts by George’ at George Mason University by Joel Markowitz on DCMetroTheaterArts.
In the Moment: This Saturday 9/27/14: ‘ARTS by George!’ at George Mason University: An Interview with Co-Chair Mark Shugoll.
Patti LuPone at ArtSpeak! at Blake High School.