She visited Argentina in “Evita” — and won a Tony for the trip.
From the high-seas hijinks of “Anything Goes” to the dark Victorian London of “Sweeney Todd” to “Gypsy’s” tawdry vaudeville circuit (and another Tony-winning role as Mama Rose, the ultimate monster stage mother), Patti LuPone has traveled far and wide as one of Broadway’s reigning divas.
These days, however, she’s visiting “Far Away Places” as a decidedly familiar character: herself.
LuPone’s solo show pulls into The Smith Center’s Reynolds Hall on Thursday, following a musical itinerary that ranges from Berlin to Broadway.
“I take the audience on a musical journey across the world,” LuPone, 64, explains during a telephone interview from her Connecticut home, citing “my wanderlust” as an inspiration for the concert’s concept.
“I’m an actor, so it suits me,” she says of the impulse to explore that infuses the show. “It’s as simple as adventure — imagination and adventure in the world.”
“(Besides) there’s something exotic about different ports of call,” LuPone points out, citing “the words ‘Mozambique’ or ‘Tanzania’ — or ‘Colorado!’ ”
Or Las Vegas, where LuPone plans to introduce a few new-to-the-concert songs, including “Amsterdam” by Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel.
“Far Away Places” began at the New York City cabaret 54 Below — so named because of its location beneath that disco-era shrine, Studio 54.
The concert version debuted last November at Carnegie Hall, where LuPone and her collaborators added a second act to the show. (Her veteran team includes director Scott Wittman, the Tony-winning lyricist of, among other things, “Hairspray” and TV’s “Smash”; musical director Joseph Thalken, who’s orchestrated and conducted for LuPone on stage and on CD; and co-writer Jeffrey Richman, executive producer of TV’s “Modern Family,” who wrote LuPone’s one-woman show “Patti LuPone on Broadway.”)
Except for the additional songs, however, LuPone doesn’t see much difference between “Far Away Places’ ” two incarnations.
“What I do in a small room is pretty much what I do in a large room,” she says, summarizing the process in one word: “storytelling.”
Initially, the story LuPone wanted to tell in this concert focused on Jews who were being forced out of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and went to Paris.
“Then they leave Paris and go to New York — and half of them go to California and create Hollywood,” she says.
Oscar-winning writer-director Billy Wilder followed that path. So did composer Arnold Schoenberg.
And, of course, composer Kurt Weill, whose bold, edgy collaborations with writer Bertolt Brecht include 1928’s “Threepenny Opera,” which introduced the world to Macheath, alias “Mack the Knife.”
But it wasn’t back-in-town Mackie who caught LuPone’s eye — and ear.
Instead, she gravitated to the blistering revenge fantasy of “Pirate Jenny,” noting that “I’ve always felt I was perfect material for Brecht and Weill.”
But she never got the chance to prove it until the Los Angeles Opera production of “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny,” a political satire about unbridled capitalism in a mythical “pleasure city” somewhere in the wild West. (Sound familiar, Sin City residents?)
“Far Away Places” features plenty of Weill, from his jaunty beer-hall “Bilbao Song” (written for 1929’s “Happy End”) to the rueful “September Song,” from the composer’s 1938 Broadway musical “Knickerbocker Holiday.”
But Wittman thought an all-Weill concert would be “too heavy,” LuPone explains, so he “interpolated a lot of songs,” going for a lighter mood to provide contrast.
As a result, “Far Away Places” also includes stops in China (Cole Porter’s witty “Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking”) and Turkey, via the swingin’ ’50s ditty “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” along with “By the Sea,” from Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.”
Audiences will “definitely recognize the music,” she says, even though many of the songs “are not something you associate with me.”
Broadway diva sings Willie Nelson? In “Far Away Places,” she does. (The song? “Night Life,” in which the singer muses, “life is just another scene in this old world of broken dreams.”) And no prizes for which Bee Gees song makes the cut — it’s, inevitably, “Nights on Broadway.”
Although she’s identified with musicals, LuPone describes herself as “a trained actor,” noting that “the singing is sort of a bonus.” (Indeed, her first job after graduating from Juilliard’s first drama class was in the Acting Company, founded by John Houseman, in which she played in everything from Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” to the musical “The Robber Bridegroom” — the latter opposite another promising young performer, Kevin Kline.)
All these years later, LuPone’s still acting, from Broadway (her most recent show was David Mamet’s “The Anarchist”) to television, in everything from FX’s “American Horror Story: Coven” to HBO’s “Girls.”
Onstage or onscreen, there’s a character you play, she says. “You have a mask to hide behind and a fourth wall” separating audience and performer.
In concert, however, the character she plays is herself.
“You’re looking them (the audience) straight in the eye,” LuPone says. “I love that.”
LuPone first began doing what she calls “concerts” during her “Evita” run, playing a New York City disco, showing off a different side of her star quality.
“That taught me more about performing to an audience” than all her Juilliard training, she says now. “I performed better.”
The reason? The connection linking performer and audience.
“When I go to the theater,” she wants an experience “where the actor is telling me, the audience, the story,” LuPone says, as opposed to “the actor having his own experience and not performing for the audience.”
In short, it’s all about the journey — with LuPone as the musical tour guide.
Contact reporter Carol Cling at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0272.