This is the way to see Patti LuPone — up close in a small club that cradles her phrasing, her vocal shades and personality. LuPone opened two nights of shows Thursday at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. She’s back for two sets Friday, running about 70 minutes each.
LuPone is one of the grand divas of Broadway, a real worker who demands perfection of herself. Small in stature, she has played big roles (“Evita” and Mama Rose in “Gypsy”) that demand dynamic and fierce commitment. In a cabaret setting, she doesn’t so much turn off that power as she tailors it to the audience and room.
LuPone runs through a diverse catalog of songs that touch on geography (“Nagasaki”), redolent reflection (“September Song”) and her love of New York (the surprising “Nights on Broadway” — yes, the Bee Gees song).
In the confines of an intimate venue, we get to appreciate the flexibility of LuPone’s voice, which can range from a Mermanesque belt to a booming fog horn (talking about that Black Freighter in “Pirate Jenny”) to a softer and silky jazz line. She’s an actor who makes easy work of lyrics, diction, emotion and movement.
“All us Juilliard and Yale BFAs majored in accents,” she joked before going off on a riff in “I Wanna Be Around,” which she dubbed the Sicilian national anthem.
She might be a little too polished as an actor. Her patter with the crowd, and pianist Joseph Falcon, had the efficiency of a script and we wished at times for that casual, off-the-cuff intimacy that might make it feel like we’re hanging out with a friend.
LuPone, though, can mesmerize with her performance — particularly within a club whose walls hold the energy tightly in place. And she’s not afraid to bring out new material.
In Thursday’s early show, she offered two numbers from the Broadway musical “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” in which she performed in 2010. With music by David Yazbek, the play fizzled but LuPone obviously cared about “Invisible,” which found her in a place of great empathy, and in “Madrid,” which she said she and Falcon had barely rehearsed. Really? Because it sure sounded close to perfect.
Hard to know if she was pulling our leg but at the conclusion of the number, she did seem to share a spontaneous joy that it had worked.
Like I say, she’s an actor — and a singer. And definitely worth seeing.