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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at 54 Below


  Patti LuPone/ Ph: Rahav Segev

The new supper club 54 Below is handsome, sophisticated and looks like it's been there forever. Back in the Studio 54 era it was the scene of club-goers partying hard. Now the basement den of debauchery has been transformed into a swank supper club, and its managers hope it will become a hangout for the Broadway crowd. The headliner of its first extended engagement is none other than Patti LuPone, who has been a Broadway diva since the days when Studio 54 was the disco du jour. She reminisces about the old, grittier Times Square, but mostly she bowls over the audience with her powerful, matchless voice.
Since 54 Below seats only about 160 people and LuPone usually sings in big Broadway theaters and concert halls, one might wonder if she would overpower the intimate room. Fortunately, that doesn't happen. Her song selections perfectly suit both her voice and the setting. There are three songs by Kurt Weill, and the dark-hued arrangements by Joseph Thalken feature accordion and violin, along with piano, guitar, banjo, saxophone and drums. Scott Wittman, the Hairspray lyricist, conceived and the directed the smart, enjoyable show.
Its title is Patti LuPone: Far Away Places, which is also the name of a song she performs by Alex Kramer and Joan Whitney. LuPone covers a lot of terrain, geographically as well as artistically. She opens the act with "Gypsy in My Soul," and later she keeps up with a disco beat on the Bee Gees' "Nights on Broadway." There's also a mini Edith Piaf homage and a trip to the Orient via Cole Porter's "Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking." LuPone's big, brassy voice really shines in the upbeat Porter number.
Some may be disappointed that she doesn't include her signature songs from EvitaLes Miserables and Sunset Boulevard. But she and her five-man band do a lovely version of "By the Sea" from Sweeney Todd, and one of her encores (apparently chosen by an audience member) is a rousing rendition of "Ladies Who Lunch" from Company. Anyone sitting near the stage should be forewarned that La LuPone may spill some of her cocktail while braying the final notes. No one seemed to mind the night I went; in fact, they loved it. Another encore is the relatively drab "Invisible" from the short-lived Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Let's just say that the song doesn't compare favorably with standards by Sondheim, Weill and Porter.
For her final encore LuPone gives a thoughtful, wistful performance of Weill's "September Song." "It was fantastic," goes a lyric in Weill's haunting "Bilbao," another exotic locale visited in the act. LuPone's show, running through June 16, is pretty fantastic too. It's certainly an auspicious start for 54 Below, which has booked an eclectic array of performers this summer including Andrea Martin, Brian d'Arcy James, Ben Vereen, Jackie Hoffman and Justin Vivian Bond. The ghosts of Studio 54 may still wander the halls, but they'll have to share the space with this warm, welcoming nightspot.


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