In it I recognized the larger construction of musical scenes (and even the wholesale recycling of tunes from within the same work). It implanted in me the understanding of accompanied recitative (and there’s a lot of it in Evita). Juan Perón’s introduction of his wife on the balcony at the top of Act Two could have been written by Stravinsky (and probably was, knowing Mr. Lloyd Webber’s fondness for cribbing plus he had the formidable Hershy Kay as his orchestrator). Although its musical language isn’t necessarily sophisticated, it planted the germs that later brought me to love masterworks like Frank Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella and Wagner’s Parsifal.

My Patti LuPone fandom began almost immediately after hearing her ferocious performance on that OBC album that was astonishingly varied both dramatically and vocally. I’ve adored her in almost everything she’s done since, especially Lloyd Webber’s subsequent Sunset Boulevard (he said covering his face in shame). Oh, I don’t get me started on Glenn Close who I saw here in LA (pfft).

Saturday night at the Music Center LA Opera presented Ms. LuPone in her current one-woman show ‘A Life in Notes’ at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Her association with LA Opera goes back to her 2007 appearance here in Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny alongside Audra McDonald and Anthony Dean Griffey conducted by James Conlon (which, enshrined on DVD, won her two Grammys). She also hilariously closed Act One as the Turkish singer Samira in the 2015 production of The Ghosts of Versailles, entering on an enormous mechanical pink elephant which she promptly upstaged with ease.

Still it had been quite a while since I’d seen her live in concert and when I glanced at the birthdate on her Wikipedia page, it did make me pause (I won’t be ungallant and mention the exact number here). Needless to say, I adjusted my expectations accordingly and tucked in for an evening of what I assumed would be light vocal cocktail stylings heavy on entertaining and snappy Broadway banter. This proved a miscalculation on my part.

She entered in a stylish ladies’ tuxedo to a frenzied reaction from a packed audience that was obviously diva deprived for far too long. She explained that the songs chosen were special to her as they all had specific memories and reminded us all about how music becomes a touchstone in all our lives. So, naturally the evening started with more than a few numbers that she hadn’t been identified with previously and the choices were interesting. Leon Russell’s ‘A Song for You’ gave her a solid opening that didn’t test her range too severely and allowed her to immediately connect with the crowd. She segued to tunes from the 50s with ‘Come on-a My House’ and the Righteous Brothers’ ‘Ebb Tide.’

Her Music Director and Pianist Joseph Thalken sat at the Yamaha grand while Brad Phillips accompanied on almost every string instrument you could imagine while they both provided occasional back-up vocals. Mr. Thalken also provided the arrangements which included a charming doo-wop-tinged ’We Kiss in the Shadow’ from The King & I.

We also got ‘Town Without Pity’ and then a touching rendition of ‘I Wish it So’ from Marc Blitzstein’s famous 16-performance Broadway flop Juno, a song I knew only by reputation which proved a lovely discovery. Ms. LuPone then put the balcony in her crosshairs and ripped into ‘Some People’ from Gypsy with a verve that caused my mouth to fall open just a tiny bit.

I should acknowledge that the individual ingredients that comprise a Patti LuPone performance, the same ones that her detractors feast on, were all in evidence: The famously clipped diction, that bewitching way she likes to sing around the break in her voice, the occasional side-of-the-mouth-sneered delivery. And that’s to say nothing of the tommy-gun vibrato when she’s in full Broadway belt mode. Although it may have taken her a very few pages to warm up, her vocalism was consistently exciting and her interpretations alive in that unique way that is entirely hers. If pitch strayed momentarily, we can certainly blame time’s winged chariot, but all in all, I’m fighting the urge to use the phrase ‘astonishingly well-preserved’ with regards to the vocal instrument itself.

Just to prove that the Gypsy piece wasn’t a fluke of muscle memory we then got the Harold Arlen/Ira Gershwin ‘The Man that Got Away’ in a gently scorched reading that lacked nothing in power. She then surprised almost everyone with a spirited ‘Those Were the Days,’ which had a goodly portion of the crowd clapping along, as she closed the first half.

Returning refreshed Ms. LuPone took the stage in true diva fashion (literally) in a silver Oscar de la Renta sheath with cape flowing behind and we got a smart rendition of ‘On Broadway.’  She then offered the meal that we’d all been waiting for by performing, back-to-back mind you, her big hits from Evita, Les Miserables, and the recent revival of Company with nary a breath in-between and the last of which she sang while balancing and sipping from a martini glass. These three performances will stay with me for a long time if only because of their concentrated emotional power.

Further highlights included a wholly appropriate version of Janis Ian’s ‘Stars’ that was bittersweetly sung with a deft comic touch. A duo of Cole Porter’s followed with Ms. LuPone purposely making a mash of the tongue twisting lyrics for ‘Anything Goes’ and then reflecting on the AIDS crisis with ‘Every time We Say Goodbye’.

She favored us with Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’ and then gave Adele a run for her money with Bob Dylan’s ‘Make You Feel My Love.’  She closed the second half with more Dylan, ‘Forever Young’, before returning for the Lennon/McCartney ‘In My Life’ as an encore to put a lovely bow on the whole evening.

Scott Wittman directed with an eye to keeping things moving and never getting too sentimental. Her longtime associate Jeffrey Richman (of Frasier, Modern Family, and the recent Uncoupled fame) provided the witty between set banter which gave us all more than a few chuckles with her trademarked  acerbic delivery. She also repeatedly and gratefully thanked the two musicians on stage, showing again and again how this was a true collaboration.

Words like ‘legendary’ and ‘iconic’ get thrown around with far too much ease of late and I am always reminded of what the great American actress Marian Seldes (who was one of Ms. LuPone’s teachers at Julliard) said about her years later in an interview:

“What I now realize is that Patti arrived with so great a talent that all we needed to do was to harness and husband it, to clean it up, so that she could share it. Anna Sokolow (another teacher) once joked that if Juilliard should catch fire, we should run to save Patti first, because everything else in that building could be easily replaced.”

It was a wonderful evening with one of our greatest singing actresses and it was a privilege to find her in such great form. Brava.

Photos: Douglas Friedman & Rahav Segev