A Taste of LuPone at Below Zero

Nov 7, 2008 at 5:11 pm

Cabaret is a musical form most people connect with New York City, but we have our own local outlet here in Cincinnati: Every Sunday evening at Below Zero Lounge (1122 Walnut St., Over-the-Rhine) you'll find cabaret tunes with great local performers around 8 p.m. This weekend it's Sherry McCamley offering a benefit for Caracole, a charity that provides housing for people afflicted with HIV and AIDS. A special attraction of the evening will be a giveaway of copies of a "new" CD by Patti LuPone.

The CD, Les Mouches, is new (or at least newly released), but it's actually a compilation of recordings from 1980, when LuPone was making a big name for herself on Broadway in her first Tony Award-winning role as Evita. For 27 consecutive Saturday nights at midnight, she did a cabaret act at Les Mouches, a dinner club on 11th Avenue that seated around 500 people (and people stacked "four-deep in the bar," she says). Everyone who was anyone in the theater world — plus politicians, celebrities, singers and more — turned out for LuPone's energetic performances. I received a copy of the recording recently and had a chance to hear LuPone talk about it in a recent phone conversation.

She did the act, she says, because she wanted people to see she was not a blonde dictator but rather a "comic, brown-eyed brunette." Each Saturday night the show was taped, and LuPone had cassettes of each of them. These provided the raw material, now cleaned up and re-mastered for the new release. It's an eclectic array of material, from "I've Got Them Feelin' Too Good Today Blues" and Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" to "Meadowlark," a song from The Baker's Wife by Stephen Schwartz (a long time before Wicked; LuPone, who played the title role, took this song and made it a signature number) and Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man." Of course, Evita's ardent theme, "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" gets a powerful rendition, too.

"I'm a Rock & Roll wannabe," LuPone says. "These performances were pure, unadulterated joy — there was a lot of whoopee going on."

Listening to the recordings today, LuPone says she'd like to tell herself to "calm down," but she loves the energy that comes through.

LuPone, who will be 60 next year, has continued to build her stellar reputation with subsequent Broadway roles — she was Mrs. Lovett in the acclaimed revival of Sweeney Todd, and she just won another Tony as Mama Rose in the award-winning revival of Gypsy — but she still likes to take on interesting projects and other kinds of music. She performed for a week at the Aronoff Center here a few years back with her one-woman revue, Matters of the Heart (a collection of romantic Rock and theater standards), and she's also released a collection of heart-rending torch songs, The Lady with the Torch.

If you'd like to get your hands on this recording, why not stop by Below Zero on Sunday evening? You'll get to hear a great show, support a worthy cause (the suggested donation at the door is $10) and maybe go home with a recording of a legendary cabaret performance. More information: 513-421-9376.