Some Enchanted Evenings: An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin Is an Overwhelming Joyous, Intimate Affair

She couldn’t make it any clearer, really: Patti LuPone would prefer that you not cry for her.

And yet on the night The Observer saw An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin last week, as it reached its emotional climax midway through its second act—Mr. Patinkin singing “Oh, What a Circus,” his big number from Evita, the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical that made them both stars, followed by Ms. LuPone singing that musical’s signature “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”—we heard sniffles to our right and turned to find our companion, usually a merrily cynical New York writer-type, sobbing, with tears running down her cheeks. “I just can’t take this,” she said, happily.

Come on Over to Patti and Mandy’s, the no-frills, high-thrills concert by the legendary performers, long-ago costars, and good friends that opened Monday night at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, can bring tears to many jaded eyes. That’s what happens when you get two consummate pros, both at or near the top of their game, singing songs they’ve selected, songs they can lay bare, using minimal amplification, in an intimate auditorium. (Even at 1,000-odd seats, the Barrymore can be cozy.) It feels gorgeous; it feels authentic; it feels genuinely moving. The evening becomes transcendent.

It takes a little while to get to that transcendence. Especially compared with Hugh Jackman’s deliciously razzle-dazzle one-man show around the corner, At Home With the LuPone-Patinkins can seem a bit underwhelming. Ms. LuPone and Mr. Patinkin are accompanied only by a piano and stand-up bass, both on stage, which is otherwise decorated only with dozens of ghost lights, those bulbs on stands left behind in any empty theater; the two stars enter in simple black: Ms. Lupone in pantsuit and scarf, Mr. Patinkin in silk shirt and slacks. Middle-aged and successful, expensively coiffed, visibly devoted to each other, and smiling broadly, they look like nothing so much as a pair of suburban burghers, perhaps on stage to be celebrated for their philanthropic efforts. (The Patricia and Mandel Patinkin Wing at Long Island Jewish, anyone?)

With this bare-bones construction and a song list of Broadway classics that leans heavily, in the first part of the first act, on South Pacific, a show with strong associations for neither performer, this little night of music at first feels like a master class—wondrous technique, little showmanship. The opening number is Stephen Sondheim’s tongue-twisting “Another Hundred People,” from Company, and there likely has not been such perfect duet-diction sung since the heyday of Gilbert and Sullivan. And even the cute dance number at the end of the first act—choreography in rolling office chairs, to the little-known “April in Fairbanks”—has a distinct flavor of rehearsal-room play-acting. (On the other hand, let’s not diminish the quality of that seated choreography: Ann Reinking is the credited dance consultant.)

As the show—which was conceived by Mr. Patinkin and Paul Ford, its music director, and directed by Mr. Patinkin—progresses, it shifts from falling-in-love-songs to we’re-in-love-songs to we’ll-always-be-in-love songs. It hits its grove with the we’re-in-love segment. And in its powerhouse second act—with those Evita songs, with Ms. LuPone belting Gypsy’s “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” with Mr. Pantinkin clowning through “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues” from Follies, with a beautiful, wistful “Somewhere That’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors—its simplicity becomes its virtue.

There isn’t a master class you’d rather spy on. The emotion on stage—in the songs, in the happy performers, in the connection between them—becomes overwhelming. It is joyous.

One note: a distraction from that joy on the night we attended was a cell phone that went off during the final, quiet, climatic moments of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” its ringtone set to that old-fashioned, Ma Bell rrriiinnnggg. Ms. LuPone once suggested, famously and angrily, that we have lost our public manners. That she did not stop this show to throttle the offender suggests she was right, and that the phones have won. It’s enough to make you cry.

Noël Coward’s Private Lives, at the Music Box in its latest revival, tells a very different version of long-established love.

The couple at its center, Amanda and Elyot, are divorced and freshly married to others at the start, though their new spouses later abandon them. They are reunited by the end, and all along they are destined to be together—but not in the tender, companionable way Patti and Mandy sing about. Amanda and Elyot are soulmates of the get-drunk-and-laugh-and-fight sort, so alike they’re comprehensible only to each other and also frequently unbearable to each other; they’re J.R. and Sue Ellen on the Continent.

It was on Broadway not quite a decade ago in a gorgeous and wry production that I recall clearly as starring Alan Rickman and some chick. (The “chick,” IBDB tells me, was Lindsay Duncan. Whoops.) This time its stars are Kim Cattrall and some dude. A Canadian with matinee-idol looks and, here, a plummy accent, his name is Paul Gross and The New York Times has assured us he is a major star in his home country.

Some Enchanted Evenings: An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin Is an Overwhelming Joyous, Intimate Affair