Live at 54 Below CD Line Debuts with Patti LuPone and Norbert Leo Butz
By Ellis Nassour
As you might expect, the much-honored and celebrated Patti LuPone‘s concert at the new and quite trendy 54 Below, located, as you might expect, downstairs the famous former center of New York nightlife, Studio 54. It’s an intimate space that, with its emphasis on red, resembles a very high-end Barbary Coast bordello. From her entrance and throughout her show, LuPone received thunderous applause.
Far Away Places [Broadway Records; SRP, $12.88] captures the show with 16 tracks of tunes and others reminiscing with great enthusiasm with the audience. The concert was written and directed by Tony and Drama Desk-winner Scott Wittman (Hairspray). Joseph Thalken music directed on piano with four musicians who manage to sound a lot bigger and louder. Six-time Grammy Nominee and producer of numerous original cast albums Robert Sher produced.
Lupone steered clear of revisiting her stage roles and signature songs, with the exception of Sondheim’s "By the Sea" from Sweeney Todd. Often LuPone is wild ‘n loose, as can be fun when appearing live, but this can also take away from well-selected songs. Highlights are Weill/Brecht’s "Bilbao Song," with fun special lyrics, a quite bitter take on "Pirate Jenny," and "Ah, the Sea Is Blue (Matrosen-Tango)"; Cole Porter’s "Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking"; a wild ‘n loose "I Wanna Be Around," co-written by Johnny Mercer; a poignant "September Song" by Weill and Maxwell Anderson; and "Hymn to Love" by Edith Piaf and Marguerite Monnot.
Unless you’ve been living life on Mars [and, these days, you might be], you are familiar with Mayhem, the character pitching on TV commercials for Allstate Insurance, played by Dean Winters (30 Rock; so memorable on HBO’s Oz) [who, in real life, has had more than his share of mayhem moments].
That comparison brings us to two-time Tony-winner Norbert Leo Butz, who’s famous for creating his own brand of mayhem in his acclaimed staged performances. He wisely chose to call his 54 Below concert Memory & Mayhem [Broadway Records; SRP, $13.28], recorded in August, 2012 with Kenny Howard and Van Dean producing the CD. His fans will eat this show, but it’s different than you might expect. However, on the very positive side, these aren’t songs you’ll be hearing everyday on every CD. Butz, on guitar, is in a rock/blues mode, and selected songs that reflect his life – what he remembers and how great moments in his life; moments pitched with humor, horror, and joy.
There’re 16 tunes on 15 tracks; others have Butz, backed by a five-piece ensemble and vocalists, interacting with the audience. Highlights are Van Morrison’s "The Way Lovers Do," "Killing the Blues" by Rowland Salley, Jimmy Webb’s "If These Walls Could Speak," in a Ray Charles mood with "Georgia on My Mind" co-written by Hoagy Carmichael, a banjo and keyboard-infused "Sixteen Tons" by Merle Travis, and Tom Waits’ poignant "Broken Bicyles."
Both CDs have illustrated booklets with notes.
Though LuPone quite momentously officially opened 54 Below with a three-week engagement, it was actually comedienne/actress/singer Jackie Hoffman who bravely broke the room in. It was a sensational show, and if recorded, hopefully, Broadway Records will have it on CD soon.