Patti LuPone | Far Away Places: Live at 54 BELOW (Broadway)

lupone 54belowIf you’re a Patti LuPone fan, or if you just appreciate great singing, you need this album.


254 West 54th Street is to show business as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is to politics. If you have to ask what goes on there, you’ve just branded yourself as terminally clueless or, worse, from out of town. Way out of town.

But I’m sure you already know that 254 West 54th was the home of the legendary Studio 54 nightclub, and under the same name is now a venue for the Roundabout Theatre Company. If you’re really up on your entertainment news, you also know that there’s also a cabaret, 54 BELOW, one flight down. Owned and operated by Tom Viertel, Marc Routh, Richard Frankel, and Steven Baruch, 54 BELOW has, in the words of The New York Times, “the congenial feel of a theater hangout where stars go to unwind and sing the songs that matter to them.”

Broadway Records and 54 BELOW have partnered to produce a series of albums recorded live in the cabaret. The first two go on sale this month: Patti LuPone’s Far Away Places: Live at 54 BELOW, and Memory and Mayhem: Live at 54 BELOW, by St. Louis’s own Norbert Leo Butz. I haven’t heard Mr. Butz’s album, but Miss LuPone’s has the series off to a great start.

The album’s theme is reflected in her choice of songs: Rack your brain and see if you can figure out what “Gypsy in My Soul,” “Far Away Places,” “Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking,” and “Travelin’ Light” have in common. Miss LuPone also offers up a fresh takes on two Brecht/Weill songs, “Pirate Jenny” and “Bilbao Song,” the latter outfitted with a new set of lyrics mourning the demise of the dangerous old Times Square, where you had to step over bodies to get the stage door. Slow tunes, including “I Cover the Waterfront” and “Hymn to Love,” also get their due, and an Edith Piaf standard gets turned inside out in “I Regret Everything.” It’s all great, and if you’re a Patti LuPone fan, or if you just appreciate great singing, you need this album.

Part of the appeal of cabaret, of course, is the intimacy of the occasion—the personal touches that the performer puts on their repertoire are complemented by the fact that you’re right there in the room with them, experiencing it all as it happens. It’s a challenge to capture that same excitement on a recording, but Far Away Places has managed just that. The sound is great, and Miss LuPone’s inimitable style comes right through the speakers and into your living room. To invoke an old cliché, it seems like she is singing directly to you. A | Sarah Boslaugh

RIYL: Patti LuPone at Les Mouches; Elaine Stritch at Liberty

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