The Force That Is Patti LuPone
This summer Patti LuPone won her second Best Actress Tony Award for her work as Rose, the ultimate stage mother, in the latest revival of Gypsy. That evening she brought the audience to its feet with her electrifying performance of "Everything’s Coming Up Roses."
Gypsy is often described as the greatest musical of all time -- the perfect marriage of book and score. Revived on Broadway in 2003, critics agreed Bernadette Peters was an odd choice for the role, and most went out of their way to dismiss her and the show itself. But Peters’s superior acting made the performance a thrill a minute, and the actress scored a Tony nomination.
But Patti LuPone's stepped it up a notch. Vocally she is perfect for the role. Where Peters struggled with the Styne-Sondheim score, LuPone plants her feet a little wider and steamrolls through each song with a brassy belt you just don't hear on Broadway these days -- and the standing ovations from audiences and critics were among the loudest they've ever been on the Great White Way.
For Patti LuPone, the standing ovations began almost 30 years ago and have not stopped. The excitement of seeing Patti LuPone live has been thrillingly captured in Patti LuPone at Les Mouches, the never-before-released recordings from her legendary 1980 nightclub act.
The album is an eclectic, often inspired combination of songs recorded throughout her 27-week run at Les Mouches. The music ranges from ’30s standards to iconic moments from her own musical theater triumphs in Evita and the lesser-known work The Baker's Wife. For extra measure she throws in some pop, disco, and even a little punk -- a reach the show's musical director, David Lewis, wasn't originally certain LuPone could handle.
Lewis had already created nightclub acts for actresses including Butterfly McQueen and Diane Keaton when he began working with LuPone. He had met the Broadway star playing for her at auditions and decided to fashion a show after her Eva Perón persona, a portrayal he describes as "fierce." He refers to her as a diva of the people, and the album proves if you can sing…you can sing.
And Patti LuPone can indeed sing it all.
The Advocate: Not that you ever went away, but please describe for our readers what your enormous success with Gypsy means to you now, both personally and professionally, almost 30 years after Evita made you a star.
Patti LuPone: It feels 30 years later, and it feels great.
Rose is such an iconic role…how much freedom did Arthur Laurents give you as an actress to make Rose your own?
Total freedom. He even let me deconstruct "Rose’s Turn" so that it is my own interpretation, not one handed down through the decades.
In developing your character, what parts of Rose did you find yourself identifying with?
I started with the humanness of Rose, and I never abandoned that quality in her.
Which parts of Rose make you cringe?
None of it makes me cringe. I'm an actor and I'm playing a part, and I have to love the character.
What do you think about the current trend of using movies or song catalogs as source material for new musicals?
Good material is good material, and if it translates into another medium, that’s great.
Does it depress you when there are so many talented writers and composers out there struggling for their break?
Yes, it depresses me. That new voices, the future of the American musical, are not being heard.
You were in the first graduating class at Juilliard's drama school. What is the biggest difference you see in the kids who come to New York City now to pursue acting versus when you were starting out?
The lack of training…the lack of technique.
Was stardom your goal, or was it a happy accident?
What do you think? [Laughs]
In the '60s Barbra did the Bon Soir; in the '70s Bette did the Continental Baths; and in the '80s you did Les Mouches. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?
It was just a wild Saturday night for 27 weeks. I left Evita, put on different makeup, and let down my hair.
Looking at your set list, you had quite an eclectic repertoire. What is "offstage" Patti's favorite style of music to sing?
I don't sing offstage, but if I did it would be rock and roll.
Describe the challenge of putting together a nightclub act while you were also in the middle of your Evita run.
David Lewis put the whole thing together. I just learned the music. The challenge was getting people to see who Patti LuPone was.
Was there anything specific you and David were looking to say? We did not set out to say anything. David put a nightclub act together for me, we got a booking, and it turned into "this thing."
Were there any acts you saw as an aspiring actress that inspired you when it was time to put together this show?
I went to all the clubs and I was inspired by a lot of people; most notably Ellen Greene at Reno Sweeney, and Barbara Cook wherever she sang.
Finally, I have to ask your take on the upcoming election, and if you don't mind sharing with our readers, who you are supporting and why?
I'm supporting Obama and his wife because he is uplifting and inspirational.