If Leslie and Patti Could Only Combine... Oh Wait, They Have by Matthew Murray

    Leslie Kritzer is Patti LuPone at Les MouchesWhat makes a legend a legend, we've always been told, is that he or she doesn't look, sound, or behave quite like anyone else: A legend is born from within. This definition may have survived Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, and maybe (maybe) even Patti LuPone. It cannot, however, survive Leslie Kritzer. Kritzer's new show—I hesitate to call it merely an act—at Joe's Pub is astounding not because it's about the ascendance of one legend, but because it's about the ascendance of two.

    If all you're expecting from Leslie Kritzer is Patti LuPone at Les Mouches is to see Kritzer recreate LuPone's September 27, 1980 farewell performance at the Chelsea club Les Mouches, where she held court late every Saturday night during her run in Evita, you won't be disappointed. From the moment Kritzer emerges, clad in a glittery white, slightly mannish suit that screams obscenities to the waning 1970s, Kritzer's voice is drenched in pitch-perfect intonations of LuPone's voice, mangled vowels, impossibly rangy belt, and all. But very early on—perhaps even during the first number, "Latin from Manhattan"—impersonation gives way to evocation, creating something both grittily familiar and gleamingly new.

    By disappearing so utterly into her subject, Kritzer not only completely satisfies your curiosity of what the original must have been like, she initiates a discussion with the audience about the nature of stardom and the foundation on which LuPone's career was built. Tearing into Cole Porter's "Love For Sale" as ravenously as a wolf, she chews up and spits out the heartbreakingly ironic lyric and waves it aside with a, "I'm giving all I have to give" attitude. She sings Stephen Sondheim's "Not While I'm Around" with a plastic, affected compassion that tells you far more about the singer than the character she's ostensibly playing. And in the show's camp centerpiece, an endless "dream sequence' involving Studio 54, Donna Summer, and—one can only assume—copious amounts of illegal substances, her attempts to get hip cause her to wallow all the more in her own inflated self-importance.

    None of this, it must be said, reflects poorly on Kritzer. She bears exactly the right guttural grace and urban elegance that identify LuPone at this point in her career. Kritzer, however, never comments on LuPone—she doesn't have to. Simply by saying her words as LuPone said them and doing her moves as she did them (a robotic invocation of the iconic Evita arms is too hilariously mechanical to be invented), Kritzer lets LuPone speak for herself. Your only choice is to listen or get out of the way.

    Of the original Les Mouches engagement, the program informs us that LuPone and her musical director David Lewis (who has helped director Ben Rimalower reconstruct this evening, and even plays the keyboards for Kritzer), "would deliver a fierce and tender celebration of the hedonism, self-destruction and soul-searching of the time." That's undoubtedly true. But never are we allowed to forget that it all began—and ended—with Patti LuPone. As the evening progresses, you feel a gradual increase in intensity of that ripple of uneasy excitement that always just precedes a star-in-the-making buying into her own publicity.

    Leslie Kritzer is Patti LuPone at Les MouchesIt's impossible to pick a favorite moment—LuPone's mock-sensitive "Mr. Tambourine Man," sitting on Lewis's piano bench is a howler; her unaccompanied "Look to the Rainbow" is painted with an intoxicating smugness; her "coming to the people" during a demented salute to Les Mouches with "Downtown" is mind-boggling; and a brief Evita medley of "Rainbow High" and "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" so particularizes LuPone's unique talent that even though it's at right angles to reality, it's electric.

    But if I had to pick one song that really captures the LuPone mythos, it would be "Meadowlark." Introducing the song—which at that point, wasn't quite a standard—LuPone refers to the show that contained it (The Baker's Wife) as a gobbler, then proceeds to recount its convoluted plot on that most of important of human scales: her own. The vocally refulgent rendition that follows trumps any I've heard from the real LuPone, live or on disc; the standing ovation it generated at the performance I attended only confirmed that history—and Kritzer—were being made because the imitator had become more real than the real thing.

    (Leslie Kritzer Is Patti LuPone at Les Mouches plays Wednesday, January 3 and Saturday, January 6, 2007, at Joe's Pub.)

    (Photos courtesy of Stacey Grabowski)

    Tuesday, December 12, 2006 at 7:29 AM | Item Link

    The last five columns written by Matthew Murray:

    09/01/2008: By the Book

    06/27/2008: An Uncomfortable Visit to the Boundaries of Show Business

    05/29/2008: Revisiting Life on that Wicked—and Wonderful—Stage

    05/10/2008: Ticky Ticky Tock... Please Make it Stop!

    05/06/2008: Welcome Playbill Radio listeners!

    For a listing of all features written by Matthew, click here.