Last year, when Patti LuPone announced she had left the stage actors’ union Actors’ Equity, effectively ending her long Broadway career, it was a shocker.
She was hardly in a slump, having just won her third Tony Award for playing Joanne in the revival of “Company.” LuPone, 74, later told People she gave up her card because the union “doesn’t support actors at all.”
In “Company” by Stephen Sondheim, the actress’ tart-tongued socialite sang during “Ladies Who Lunch,” “Look into their eyes and you’ll see what they know — everybody dies!”
But LuPone, a volcanic presence in and out of character, more closely embodies the mantra of her fame-hungry “Gypsy” character Mama Rose: “Anybody who stays home is dead!”
So it was wonderful to see the fiery actress lively and out of the house, if not on Broadway, singing at the Ice Palace nightclub in Cherry Grove Saturday night.
The sold-out event was a coup for Fire Island. LuPone’s manager, traveling with her, had to repeatedly tell vacationers begging for tickets that there would be no extras handed out.
Rumors spread about where she’d have dinner after the performance (the Sand Castle on the Ocean).
And strolling the boardwalks of Cherry Grove, you could hear the belty “Evita” star rehearsing from her house.
LuPone is at her best in scrappy settings like that. The venue hosted an underwear party the night before, and you sure can’t order a vodka soda mid-song at Carnegie Hall.
Her 90-minute concert was appropriately free-form. Called “Songs From a Hat,” it was a spontaneous lineup of tunes, accompanied by piano, based on suggestions audience members dropped in headgear onstage.
Those front-row ticket buyers didn’t play a game of Stump the Singer, though, and for the most part picked songs that were safely from her concert repertoire.
A few selections were nothing short of mandatory, such as “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from “Gypsy” and “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” from “Evita.”
In theory, she’s a bit sick of that second one. “Of all of the songs to come out of the hat,” LuPone brittlely cracked, but then snapped into a tender rendition of it all the same.
And, lucky us, somebody asked for Stephen Schwartz’s wordy and sky-high “Meadowlark,” which is still as devilishly tricky as when she first sang it 47 years ago.
As the night went on, LuPone seemed to prefer softer and more contemplative music to her loud signatures. She gently crooned Gabey’s number, “Lonely Town” from “On the Town;” “Somewhere” from “West Side Story;” and “Not While I’m Around” from “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
The evening wasn’t all sadness and Sondheim, of course. LuPone is funny as ever, and she was a veritable camp fest as she rapped huckster Harold Hill’s “Ya Got Trouble” from “The Music Man” and threateningly instructed her chorus/audience, “Don’t be louder than the singer!”
And after a man dropped a $100 bill in the tip jar on the piano, a confused LuPone walked around the room collecting cash before donating the impressive lot to the Cherry Grove Fire Department.
Only one hope was dashed: Oh, how I longed for a brave soul in the pricey seats to request “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard.”
She rarely ever performs any material from that musical — for a while, as a rule — since Lloyd Webber replaced her with Glenn Close as Norma Desmond after the London premiere. Still, a mostly-requests show on an island filled with drunks seemed like a good time to lug it out of storage.
Speaking of locking things away, I left the satisfying concert praying that LuPone’s Broadway career won’t suffer the same fate.
Mama Rose sings, “You either got it, or you ain’t.” Patti’s still got it.