Turning Pages with Patti Lupone
By Ellis Nassour
In Patti LuPone: A Memoir [Crown Archetype; Hardcover, 336 pages; 100 photographs, including an eight-page four-color insert, Index; SRP $26; Kindle version, SRP $14], Bway’s ultimate and most colorful star takes readers on a blistering journey through her mostly acclaimed career.
LuPone, with the characteristic bluntness, passion, and self-depreciating humor you would expect from our musical theater treasure and a musical theater diva, and with the help of veteran writer Digby Diehl, recounts her not always pleasant journey to stardom. She’s the consummate artist; however, not to be fooled, everything, she admits, wasn’t always coming up roses.
There were battles, professional and personal, some well-documented, some secret till now. LuPone isn’t shy about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. She vividly expresses not only her innermost feelings but also her famous temperament. It doesn’t appear that she holds back on any points or leaves anything out.
It’s a "warts and all," "trials and tribulations" telling, and rarely is a halo hovering above her head. What nerve she has to quote even her worst reviews!
In total, there are 20 chapters, ranging from a Prologue about the 2008 opening night of Gypsy, to her L.I. years, early auditions, "making of an actor," her Juilliard terms, [then comes the hard-hitting, sometimes brutal tales as in] The Baker’s Wife, or Hitler’s Road Show, working with David Mamet, Evita, The Cradle Will Rock, Les Miserables, LBJ, Anything Goes, Sunset Boulevard, right up to the Gypsy’s closing night.
Among the many celebrity comments about Memoir, Alec Baldwin wrote: "For some rare performers, there’s a place beyond commercial success, popularity with audiences, and honors within an industry. A special place where they are both respected and adored–even envied–by other performers for their wealth of talent. These are actors who sing, as opposed to singers who act. They bring an actor’s range of thought about character and truth and psychology. Among them, none has more talent, more courage, and more emotive power than Patti LuPone. When Patti LuPone comes on stage, you don’t always know what will happen, but you know it will be among the greatest work by any stage actress in theatre, ever."
LuPone takes insightful looks at her friendships and alliances, her "acting process" for such career-defining roles as Evita, Fantine in Les Miz, Reno Sweeney in LCT’s lavish Anything Goes, Norma in Sunset Boulevard, Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, and, of course, her ultimate challenge in the role she was born to play, Rose in Gypsy.
Did anyone expect Patti LuPone to be unable to grab and hold a reader’s attention just as she has done with thousands of theatergoers? I don’t think the expectations were as high as the end result.
LuPone knows how to capture an audience. She makes an easy transition from stage to page, writing with wit, flamboyant energy, and a theatrical flair.
Sometimes, she’s like a bull in a China shop or a bloodied boxer in the ring but on the last breath. The pages are filled with colorful and sometimes off-color anecdotes, as is especially here assessment of her co-star Topol in the ill-fated Baker’s Wife, and his replacement, Paul Sorvino.
The chronicling of her ascent to stardom in Evita and the backstage goings on during production on the West End Sunset Boulevard reads like a theatrical thriller. After being handpicked for the role of Norma and reaping untold acclaim, she was unceremoniously fired. It’s a text book chapter on show biz loyalty, and Lloyd Webber’s lack of grace and PR logic. It cost him dearly; and LuPone made out swimmingly. She had the last laugh: becoming the first American to be honored with the Olivier Award.
Patti LuPone recounts discovering her calling at four and knew that she was destined for the stage. A prodigiously gifted child, she began in her teens when she and her twin brothers performed as the LuPone Trio.
She received a 1968 scholarship to the inaugural class of John Houseman’s new Juilliard Drama Division, where she explains she was "overwhelmed with fear" and where she heard near-constant criticism from instructors. She toured with Houseman’s Acting Company from 1972 to 1976, and made her Bway debut in 1973 [in repertory revivals of Three Sisters as Irina and The Beggar’s Opera as Lucy, cast by John Houseman, then A.D. of the City Center Acting Company]. Early success landed her a four-year stint on TV’s Life Goes On, which wasn’t always a happy experience.
LuPone made her auspicious Bway The much-honored LuPone, whom the NYTimes’ Jesse Green referred to as "the musical star built for another age, an Ethel Merman without portfolio."
Of her performance in Gypsy, this writer wrote: "Once she hops on the bike and revs the engines; once she stokes the furnace and reaches full speed ahead; once she takes off and reaches maximum throttle and roars into orbit, the luminous Patti LuPone is unstoppable as she gives the performance of several lifetimes … With her astounding performance, she can hang her portfolio with pride right next to Merman’s star."
LuPone’s recent credits include her debut with LAOpera in Weill-Brecht’s Mahagonny, the world premiere of Jake Heggie’s opera To Hell and Back with SF’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra; and a multi-city tour of her theatrical concert, Matters of the Heart.
She received the 2009 Tony, DD, and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance as Rose in Gypsy, which she originated at City Center Encores! and Chicago’s Ravina Festival.
Lupone was also the recipient of the Best/Outstanding Actress, Musical, Tony and DD for her title role Rice/Lloyd Webber’s Evita; Tony and DD Actress, Musical, noms for the Sweeney Todd revival; Tony and DD Actress, Musical, noms for LCT and Porter’s Anything Goes; Tony and DD Featured Actress, Musical, noms for the short-lived Uhry/Waldman Robber Bridegroom, based on the Eudora Welty novella and which co-starred Kevin Kline; and a DD, Featured Actress, Play, nom for Mamet’s The Old Neighborhood.
The Mahagonny cast CD won two Grammys, Best Classical Recording and Best Opera Recording. She has toured in the concert An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. The latter was, of course, her Evita co-star in the role of Che. Her solo concerts include Matters of the Heart, Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda and The Lady with The Torch. The latter is LuPone’s latest CD [Ghostlight Records].
She’s been nominated for an Emmy, won two Grammys, and has numerous theater, film [including a wonderful turn in the invented role of Boolie Werthan’s wife Florine in Driving Miss Daisy], TV, one-woman show, and club act credits. She’s a five-time Tony nom and two-time winner; and five-time DD nom and three-time winner.