By Jeremy Kinser
Originally published on Advocate.com October 26 2010 10:45 AM ET
Who knew Jimmy Fallon was such a musical theater queen? When Broadway superstar Patti LuPone appeared on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon recently and belted a rafters-rattling rendition of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” one of her standout solos from Gypsy, the host all but genuflected at her feet. By now, nearly four decades into her storied career, LuPone has surely grown accustomed to such praise and gestures.
All the triumphs, disappointments, friendships, and feuds are recounted in her new book, Patti LuPone: A Memoir (Crown Archetype, $25.99). So many show business memoirs are polite to the point of tedium, but one would never put that label on the famously tempestuous LuPone’s book. Her memoir is simultaneously breezy and rollicking, always refreshingly candid, and often filled with unexpected humility. A star of the first rank since Evita, a role that won the actress her first Tony award in 1980 and haunted her, literally (LuPone writes of receiving three visits from the ghost of Eva Peron), for years, LuPone has starred in hit musicals (revivals of Anything Goes and Sweeney Todd) and dramas (Maria Callas in Master Class) and won wide acclaim for film and television work (including the series Life Goes On and playing Lady Bird Johnson in LBJ).
LuPone is also frequently pragmatic, learning lessons and reaping benefits from unpleasant career lows. She details working with an egomaniacal, unprofessional Topol in The Baker’s Wife yet recognizes the show brought her one of her signature songs, “Meadowlark.” The settlement from her controversial firing (written about in scathing detail here) from Sunset Boulevard paid for “the Andrew Lloyd Webber Memorial swimming pool” at her Connecticut home. And then there's the role many feel she was born to play, Mama Rose in Gypsy,
a triumph that won her a second Tony award as best actress; the
tales of the production open and close her book.
Taking a break from rehearsals for her new show, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, a musical adaptation of the torrid 1988 Pedro Almodóvar comedy, LuPone spoke with The Advocate about the show, her juicy new memoir, and Glee’s impact on musical theater.
The Advocate: I have to get this out of the way. A friend who is a big theater queen has this fantasy that you, Audra McDonald, Liza Minnelli, and Bernadette Peters hang out and have karaoke parties. Any chance this has ever happened?
Patti LuPone: [Laughs] No, never! That’s a funny notion, but it doesn’t happen. I mean, I sing with Audra a lot, but I can’t say that I’m friends with Bernadette or Liza. I know them, but I don’t count them among my friends. Broadway is a place of work. My friends are my lifelong friends I’ve had since childhood. But on Broadway you go to work, you do your thing, and you move on.
Despite having won two Tony awards nearly three decades apart, you’re still in the peak of your career. Why did you decide to write your memoir now?
Someone asked me to. It’s not something I thought about, but my friend Amy, who is a literary agent, said, “Now’s the time to do this, Patti.” So I thought, Well, that’s an interesting idea. I knew I had all the material. I have scrapbooks from the beginning of my career, from Juilliard, and photos of all the characters I’ve played, so I knew I had archives to work with. All I had to do was open the scrapbooks and start recalling the stories. I spoke to cast members on shows like The Baker’s Wife and they remembered stuff that I didn’t remember.
Your book is dishy and revealing. You don’t hold anything back, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. Was there any discussion about whether you should be so forthcoming?
No, that’s just who I am. I didn’t make an effort to be anything but who I am already.
You’re now in previews with Women on the Verge ... Were you a fan of the film before you accepted the role in the show?
I hadn’t seen the film before. I’m a big fan of Pedro Almodóvar, but I had never seen Women on the Verge. I’m a big fan of Bartlett [Sher, the show’s director] and I love Lincoln Center Theater. If anything is up my alley, it’s a piece of Latin music or a piece of Latin material, so I thought this is something I should be involved with. When it comes to oversized emotions, this is where they belong — in Europe and particularly in this show.
You’ve played many extremely passionate women in your career. How does Lucia, your character in Women, differ from others?
There’s less singing here than in the other shows, but there are great costumes. I’m a platinum blond in this. I’m kind of a hot mama. [Laughs]
When you star in a revival, such as Anything Goes or Sweeney Todd or Gypsy, is there ever pressure to distinguish your performance from a predecessor’s?
No, no. The pressure may come from other people placing it on me, but I don’t place it on myself. All I have to do is read the script and I’m a different person. Otherwise I’m an imitator. I don’t think actors are imitators. We are creators.
There’s been talk of you reviving Gypsy again in London, but you recently told Out magazine that you and Arthur Laurents are on the outs again. Have there been any new developments with this?
I don’t know. I haven’t heard from him. I’m not on the outs with him, but he may be on the outs with me. [Laughs] I would love to play Rose again.
You’re in The Miraculous Year, which is a potential new series for HBO. What can you reveal about it?
We’ve shot the pilot and Kathryn Bigelow directed it. It has a splendid cast. It’s a great piece of writing by John Logan. It’s about a prominent artistic family in New York. I play the composer’s leading lady, who is also his best friend and who’s gone through all the wars with him. I’m knocking on wood right now that it gets picked up, because there hasn’t been anything like it.
What are some of the other great stage roles that you’re yearning to play?
really think like that. If someone says, “You should play this,” I’d
say. “Yeah?” But I don’t think that way, mostly because I’m lazy. Also,
the thing I love is the surprise element of my career. I never know
what’s coming next.
Are there any young performers on Broadway who remind you of yourself?
No, they broke the mold when they made me. [Laughs]
Well, who do you admire on Broadway right now?
The choreographer’s work in American Idiot was unbelievable. And I thought the cast was pretty great. I love Vanessa [Redgrave]. I would see Vanessa do anything. I can’t wait to see Driving Miss Daisy with Vanessa and James Earl Jones and Boyd Gaines.
Do you think a TV show like Glee will create a new audience for musical theater?
Yes, yes, and more yeses. I hope they don’t get campy and crazy, but yes. You know what, everyone wants to be in a Broadway musical. Over and out. If you’ve a young girl tap-dancing in toe shoes in Fort Lauderdale Fla., everybody wants to be on Broadway. Bono is writing a musical. For some reason everyone wants to be on Broadway or write a Broadway musical. I don’t get it. As a performer, they certainly don’t know how difficult it is. I don’t know what the rockers are thinking ... Oh, now we’d better write a Broadway musical. It’s so crazy to me. [Laughs]
What goes through your mind when look back at the illustrious career you’ve had so far?
I don’t think like that. I can’t watch myself on TV. I don’t know many performers who go, “Oh, I was great!” The line I always use, which is tongue-in-cheek, is “I’m just not a big fan of me.” [Laughs] I can’t look at it. I just do my work and move on.
For more information on Women on the Verge ...click here.