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The Show

The crowd mingles in the lobby of the Gallo Center for the Arts before the gala concert Thursday. (Bart Ah You/The Bee)
The crowd mingles in the lobby of the Gallo Center for the Arts before the gala concert Thursday. (Bart Ah You/The Bee)

Broadway diva and Tony winner Patti LuPone took the audience on a musical tour through her career at the gala grand opening for the Gallo Center for the Arts Thursday night.

The journey through her early struggles to the role that made her a star was an apt metaphor for the night and long, sometimes bumpy, 10-year road it took the Gallo Center to go from faraway dream to glittering reality.

The nearly packed house, dressed as if they were attending opening night on Broadway, was treated to an opening performance by the Modesto Symphony Orchestra and its new music director David Lockington.

The selections sounded a dreamy, celebratory tone, including works by Rachmaninoff and Copland. The conductor displayed his theatrical flare, chatting casually with the crowd and prompting them to clap along.

LuPone's entrance was heralded by an orchestral medley of some of her more famous musical roles. She came on stage promptly at 9 p.m. and without hesitation launched into song.

The 58-year-old singer and actress' performance was an abridged version of her 2000 autobiographical show "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda," which she staged at New York's Carnegie Hall and around the country.

LuPone's Broadway resume includes creating the title role in "Evita," as well as Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard" and Fantine in "Les Misérables." TV viewers will know her from her role as the mother on the '90s drama "Life Goes On" and more recently as a guest star on the hit new comedy "Ugly Betty."

Dressed in a simple black slip and camisole with a glittering lace jacket, LuPone told the audience about the first time she was one stage.

"I realized, 'Hey, they're all smiling at me,' " she recalled. "I can't get in trouble up here when they're all smiling at me."

That simple revelation launched an over 35-year-career in musical theater.

Alternately brassy and sassy, LuPone's trip through her musical memory lane included everything from her high school role in "South Pacific" to auditioning for the new Drama Division at the Juilliard School. In 1972, she was part of its first graduating class.

As LuPone tore through songs from everything from "Bye Bye Birdie," to "Hair" and "West Side Story," her performance often touched on her humorous letdowns.

"Some of the roles I did play but didn't want to play," she joked. "Some of the roles I did play but shouldn't have played -- according to the New York Times."

Her act culminated with her most famous role, "Evita." Striking the iconic pose with arms upraised, she let the music swell -- even checked her watch -- before starting the first notes of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina."

Afterwards she came back to sing two encores, the second a simple a cappella number after a standing ovation from the well-heeled crowd.

Bee entertainment writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284. Read her blog SceneIt at thehive.modbee.com/sceneit.

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