When the musical "Evita" swept the 1980 Tony Awards, it triumphantly announced the arrival of two young actors - Mandy Patinkin and Patti LuPone - who would spend the next 30-plus years making remarkable choices in their theater, film, and television roles.
Though they never appeared together in another musical, they have reunited for the show "An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin," that opens January 17, 2012 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, a mere 4 days after closing a 64-show run on Broadway.
Mutual Admiration Society
"Evita" was Patinkin's first Broadway show and his performance as Che Guevara won a Tony for both him and his Eva Peron, Patti LuPone. Now that they've re-teamed for a week of appearances in a joint musical concert piece, Patinkin told KCUR that he isn't shy about his admiration for his co-star.
"It's one of the great gifts of my life is to do this work, and to do it with the most extraordinary musical comedy human beings of my generation, who is Patti LuPone," he said.
"You know there are a lot of great ones out there, but I love Patti so dearly. We've been friends forever, and to be up there with her is simply as good as it gets. I wish the audience could walk up on stage and be in my shoes, to be with her. It's the best thing on the planet."
And when Patti LuPone was in Kansas City last September to inaugurate the opening of the Kauffman, she expressed to KCUR's Laura Spencer that those feelings were mutual.
"I love Mandy and I love being on stage with Mandy," she said in her dressing room. "We're doing our show that we've done for a couple years - several years, actually - (on) Broadway and then directly after, we have a day off and then we fly back here, so we should be in really good shape because we would have played it for 9 weeks in New York. I love working with him. He's so much fun and great on stage."
Songs Telling Stories
The show is called "An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin" and originated from a concert they were asked to do together 9 years ago. Patinkin recalls that he wanted it be more than a cliched sing this, sing that kind of show.
"I particularly hate those kind of evenings so I was ready to blow it off," he said. "But before I blew it off, I was talking to Paul Ford, my piano player who's been with me for 24 years, and I said, 'Look, do you think we could put together a show that told a story, that wasn't just a bunch of songs but told a story, a figurative journey, and we could have it for the rest of our lives, keep changing it?' He said, 'Sure.' So I went and asked Patti and I said, 'What do you think about this?' And she said, 'Go ahead, doll.'"
What they created was a story in song about the different ways two people can meet and the possibilities that can spring from that encounter. Though they do revisit songs from their respective careers, they're also sampling shows like "Carousel" and "South Pacific."
Playing Themselves and Others
I asked Patinkin if he and LuPone were playing themselves, these characters, or a little of both.
"It's always Patti and Mandy being the people in 'South Pacific'. We are Billy and Julie in 'Carousel.' We are Charlie and Mary in 'Merrily We Roll Along.' We are all those people but we're always Patti and Mandy.
"The nervous system link, the thread that runs through the entire evening, is that even though you're watching all these characters at different stages in their lives, going through their journey, you're watching these two people, Patti and Mandy, who also met, and also did certain things."
Patinkin added that when people heard they were closing the show on Broadway on a Friday and bringing it to the Kauffman Center the following Tuesday, he enjoyed telling them that the Broadway run was merely the warm-up for Kansas City.