Patti LuPone is riding high these days, having received rave reviews for her recent work as La Mome Pistache in the City Center Encores! presentation of Cole Porter's Can-Can. About that performance, The New York Times' Ben Brantley raved, "It is Ms. LuPone, in snug red taffeta and acres of cleavage, who makes Can-Can an Encores! to savor. When in the second act, she wraps her voice like a sable stole around 'I Love Paris,' the show's most famous song, she's not just selling a familiar ballad; she's defining a character who is experiencing very mixed feelings. Suddenly an old song sounds new. . . there was no doubt that a love affair between a star and her audience had been blissfully reignited."
I had the chance to chat with the multi-talented actress earlier this week, who spoke about that Can-Can performance and the great admiration she has for the entire company, which included Reg Rogers, Charlotte d'Amboise and her leading man, Michael Nouri. "It was a great, great company," says LuPone. "The most professional company, the most talented, the most beautiful to look at I have ever worked with. These guys were lifers, and I was so grateful to them. They made me look better!"
Now that she has once again proved that she should, would and could, La LuPone is returning to the intimate world of cabaret with an all-new act entitled The Lady With the Torch. It's been more than two decades since the Olivier Award winner has made cabaret her home. It was during her Tony-winning run in Evita when she triumphed at the now-closed Les Mouches, performing an unprecedented 30-week run of Saturday nights following her evening performance in the musical that brought her to the attention of musical-theatre fans around the world.
"Oh my God! I remember it all," LuPone says with a sly chuckle. "It was wild. It was a discotheque — one floor was a discotheque, and the upper floor was the Supper Club. We had a ball. It was packed for 30 weeks, Saturday nights at midnight." Her repertoire at the time included such LuPone-standards-to-be as "Meadowlark" and "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" as well as "Inch Worm," "Body and Soul," "Love for Sale," "Latin from Manhattan," "Luxury Liner" and "Because the Night." "I was desperate for people to see who I was," admits LuPone, who wanted audiences to realize she was nothing like the late wife of Argentine dictator Juan Peron that she was playing onstage at the Broadway Theatre. LuPone, who has triumphed in some of the largest theatres and concert halls around the world, says there is no real difference between playing a cabaret room and a small theatre. "You have to reach out a little further in a larger theatre and you have to pull back a little bit in a smaller one. . . [Cabaret reminds me of] looking out at the first 99-seat theatre I ever played. It was some theatre on the road with the Acting Company. I went, 'My God, that's small!' But you adjust, you don't have to reach so far."
Her new show, which she co-created with Hairspray's Scott Wittman and musical director Dick Gallagher, premiered to rave reviews earlier this week at Los Angeles' Feinstein's at the Cinegrill. In his L.A. Times review Don Heckman wrote, "[LuPone has created] a beautifully paced, marvelously delivered torch-song exploration of the pleasures and pains of love." About the genesis of the show, LuPone says, "Scotty and I were talking about doing a new show. I wanted to do blue grass, and he wanted to do torch, and he won out! [Laughs.] We have another booking at Carnegie Hall in 2005, and we couldn't very well do Coulda Woulda Shoulda there again, so it was time for a new show. Then, my agent said, 'You have an offer from Feinstein's, and you have an offer from the Plush Room,' and I said, 'Oh boy, let's get to work.'" Her evening of Torch, which will also be the first half of her upcoming return to Carnegie Hall, includes such tunes as Dietz and Schwartz's "By Myself," the Jule Styne standard "I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry," Billy Barnes' "Something Cool," Harold Arlen's "Ill Wind," Ted Snyder's "Who's Sorry Now," Johnny Mercer's "I Wanna Be Around" and the Gershwin classic "The Man I Love." LuPone is also reprising one of her Can-Can gems, Cole Porter's "C'est Magnifique."
After her run at Manhattan's Feinstein's at the Regency, LuPone will reteam this May with director Lonny Price for the New York Philharmonic presentation of Leonard Bernstein's Candide, which co-stars Kristin Chenoweth and tenor Paul Groves in the title role. It will mark LuPone's fifth concert musical helmed by director Price, following the acclaimed productions of Pal Joey, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, Passion and the aforementioned Can-Can. "He's a brilliant director," LuPone says lovingly about Price. "He's so supportive, so smart. Because he was an actor, he's an actor's director. He knows the process of the actor, and he knows how to encourage and bring the best out. I couldn't think of doing any of these in-and-out shows the way we've done without him because it's just too debilitating. It's too hard. . . . We always start a good two weeks ahead of schedule. We've already done all our stuff by the time we get to rehearsal. Darling," she adds with a laugh, "[memorizing these shows is] keeping Alzheimer's at bay!"
LuPone will also be part of the summer season at Chicago's Ravinia Festival — she'll co-star with Audra McDonald and Michael Cerveris in the Sondheim masterpiece Sunday in the Park with George — and the Kennedy Center's 2004-2005 theatre season. At the D.C. landmark, she'll head the cast of a concert staging of the little-known Regina. "I just heard the score for the first time. It's [Marc] Blitzstein, so it's very interesting music, and it's based on the Little Foxes."
The actress, who makes her home with husband Matt Johnston and son Josh in Connecticut, is also a true fan of the theatre and always checks out the current Broadway fare. Here's her take on some of this season's new musicals: Avenue Q: "Loved it! I loved it!" Wicked: "I thought those girls were awesome. I was so impressed with the estrogen power on that stage and some of the most phenomenal stage effects I've ever seen." The Boy From Oz: "Oh my God! I went backstage and said [to Hugh Jackman], 'You're the best thing that's hit Broadway since I don't know when.' He's got that Broadway energy. I loved it. I thought they were all fabulous. I was throwing my underpants up at him, too, at the end of the show. I was right there with the rest of the audience. This is what it's about. Having seen Wicked [earlier that day], gone out for dinner and had a couple of drinks — I did a theatre marathon with my son and somebody I go to the theatre with. I was exhausted by the time I got to Boy From Oz, and I was so energized at the end of the night."
And, now LuPone is ready to energize New York audiences herself with Lady with the Torch. Although she had originally planned to include some Piaf standards in her Torch evening, none made the final cut. One can only hope LuPone is saving them for a revival of Pam Gems' Piaf on Broadway. "I was actually offered the role [in the original 1981 production] after Jane Lapotaire won the Tony. She literally left the show the week after she won the Tony. Then I thought, 'They're all going to think they're seeing Jane Lapotaire,' so I turned it down, but I would very much like to do it now." How incredible would our Evita gal be singing such tunes as "If You Love Me," "Mon Dieu" and "No Regrets"! I can hear it now . . . "and the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical goes to Patti LuPone for Piaf."
Before that happens, however, La LuPone will be carrying a Torch in Manhattan April 6-24 at Feinstein's at the Regency. Don't miss your chance to see the one-and-only Patti LuPone in such an intimate setting.
[Patti LuPone will play Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8:30 PM with late shows on Friday and Saturdays at 11 PM. There is a $60 cover charge and a $30 minimum. Feinstein's at the Regency is located in Manhattan at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street. Call (212) 339-4095 for reservations.]
Those who lament having missed Broadway's Golden Age should immediately head to the Vivian Beaumont Theater, where the legendary Barbara Cook is holding court weekends in Barbara Cook's Broadway.
Cook performs some of the finest tunes from that fabled era in Broadway history while offering a handful of anecdotes about the show-biz folk she has encountered — including Leonard Bernstein, Robert Preston, Sheldon Harnick, Elaine Stritch and Gary Cooper — throughout her award-winning career. One of my favorite stories concerned a loyal Cook fan who had seen the actress perform the role of Funny Girl's Fanny Brice several times in summer stock. When he finally saw the Barbra Streisand film, he called Cook to tell her he thought the film was okay but Streisand was "too skinny and too Jewish."
At this point, there's probably very little left to be said about the beloved actress-singer, whose vocal gifts remain amazingly intact. Sure, she no longer goes for the high notes in "Glitter and Be Gay" (though the song, with a surprise ending, closes the show), but her interpretative skills have only grown stronger and stronger throughout the years. Who would have thought that someone in her seventies would be in her prime? It gives hope for us all!
Highlights of Cook's new show include a moving pairing of Irving Berlin's "What'll I Do" with Jerry Herman's "Time Heals Everything"; an upbeat take on another Herman tune, "Look What's Happened to Mabel"; a version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Gentleman Is a Dope" filled with longing and regret; a joyful "Mister Snow" from Carousel; the heartbreaking "This Nearly Was Mine"; and what is perhaps the finest version you're going to hear of Stephen Sondheim's Follies classic, "In Buddy's Eyes." As always, Wally Harper remains an important factor in Cook's musical success; his piano accompaniments and Cook's voice are the perfect marriage.
Tickets for Barbara Cook's Broadway are priced at $60 and are available by logging on to www.telecharge.com. Remaining show times are April 2 at 8 PM, April 3 and 4 at 2 PM, April 16 at 8 PM and April 17 and 18 at 2 PM.
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK:Singer-actress-composer Amanda McBroom, best known as the composer of the Bette Midler hit "The Rose," will premiere her new one-woman musical play this summer at the Rubicon Theatre Company. From June 10-July 11, McBroom will star in Lady Macbeth Sings the Blues at the California theatre. Written by McBroom and Joel Silberman, the production will be directed by Silberman with musical direction by Dean Mora. According to the Rubicon website, "McBroom plays a modern woman in crisis, who turns to Shakespeare's women for answers and advice." McBroom is offered advice from such classic Shakespearean characters as Katherine the Shrew, Ariel the Fairy, Gertrude the Queen, and the infamous Lady Macbeth. The Rubicon Theatre Company is located at 1006 E. Main Street in Ventura, CA. For more information visit www.rubicontheatre.org. . . . The summer cabaret series at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival has been announced. Those taking part in “Martinis at the Martin” include Café Carlyle mainstay Bobby Short, Broadway favorite Patti LuPone, veteran actress-singer Rita Moreno and the young jazz-recording artist Peter Cincotti. The series kicks off June 6-7 with the legendary Short. LuPone, a Ravinia regular, follows Aug. 29-30. Cincotti, who is making his Ravinia debut, is set for July 18-19, and the series concludes with Moreno Aug. 13-14. The Ravinia theatres are located in Highland Park, IL; for more information, go to www.ravinia.org. . . . Gossip columnist Liz Smith will host "Skitch Henderson Presents New Faces of '04," an evening of song to celebrate the New York Pops' 21st birthday. On May 10 at 7 PM Avenue Q's Stephanie D'Abruzzo and John Tartaglia, The Boy From Oz's Mitchel David Federan, Never Gonna Dance's Nancy Lemenager and Noah Racey and Little Shop of Horrors' Michael-Leon Wooley will join 2003 Star Search winner Vickie Natale and New York City Opera soprano Jody Sheinbaum for the all-star celebration at Carnegie Hall. Skitch Henderson will conduct the famed pops orchestra, and the evening will feature tunes from the Great American Songbook, including works by the Gershwins, Frank Loesser and Richard Rodgers. In a statement 85-year-old Henderson said, "We're looking for new talent, especially vocalists, who have what it takes to become big stars and can perform the great music of the American Songbook — the music of Porter, Kern, Arlen, Berlin, Rodgers and Bernstein — and keep this great musical repertory alive." A dinner dance will be held at the Plaza Hotel following the Carnegie Hall concert. Tickets for "Skitch Henderson Presents New Faces of '04" begin at $35 and are available by calling (212) 765-7677. Carnegie Hall is located in Manhattan at 57th Street and Seventh Avenue. For more information, visit www.carnegiehall.org. . . . Audra McDonald, who is currently co starring in the revival of A Raisin in the Sun, will premiere a new song cycle this June at Carnegie Hall. Commissioned by the Carnegie Hall Corporation, the cycle is entitled The Seven Deadly Sins and comprises seven works for the soprano and her quintet. Each of the pieces will concern one of the "seven deadly sins": envy, gluttony, pride, greed, sloth, anger and lust. Among the composers who will contribute songs to the concert are Lynn Ahrens, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Stephen Flaherty, Ricky Ian Gordon, Jake Heggie, Michael John LaChiusa, Jessica Molaskey, and John Pizzarelli. The cycle will also include tunes from the Great American Songbook as well as a tune from Adam Guettel's new musical, The Light in the Piazza. McDonald will perform the song cycle June 2, 4, 8 and 10. Ted Sperling will act as musical director and pianist with Rick Heckman on reeds, Peter Sachon on cello, Peter Donovan on bass and Dave Ratajczak on drums. Tickets, priced $48-$62, are available by calling (212) 247-7800 For more information about Carnegie Hall, visit www.carnegiehall.org. . . . Cabaret singer Barbara Fasano will return to the Cabaret at Odette's in New Hope, PA April 23 and 24. Backed by Rick Jensen at the piano, Fasano will offer her new show "Fields of Gold." The acclaimed program features tunes by Sting, Gershwin, Cole Porter, Dorothy Fields, Jerome Kern, Bruce Springsteen and Duke Ellington. Show time is 8 PM. There is a $20 cover charge and a $10 minimum; call (215) 862-3000 for reservations. . . . The upcoming Broadway By the Year concert, which will pay tribute to the musicals that opened on The Great White Way in 1949, will be held April 19 at Town Hall. Noah Racey and Nancy Lemenager, the recent Never Gonna Dance stars who provided one of the show-stopping moments at last month's Broadway By the Year concert, will return for the April 19 event. They will be joined by Tony Award winner Karen Ziemba, Jane Eyre's Marla Schaffel, Urinetown's Jeff McCarthy, The Producers' Cady Huffman, Nightlife Award winner Lennie Watts and MAC Award winner Scott Coulter. Created and hosted by cabaret critic Scott Siegel, the evening will feature songs from South Pacific, Miss Liberty, Touch and Go, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Lost in the Stars. Concertgoers can expect to hear such tunes as "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," "Some Enchanted Evening," "Younger Than Springtime" and "This Had Better Be Love." Show time is 8 PM. Tickets for Broadway By the Year: 1949 are priced at $45 and $37.50 and are available by calling (212) 307-4100 or (212) 840-2824. Town Hall is located at 123 West 43rd Street. Visit www.the-townhall-nyc.org for more information. . . . And, finally, two-time Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters will guest on "The Today Show" this month. Peters, who is currently starring as Momma Rose in the acclaimed revival of Gypsy, will guest on the NBC chat show Sunday, April 11. The actress is scheduled to perform her show-stopping Act I finale, "Everything's Coming Up Roses." "The Today Show" airs on WNBC-TV; check local listings for times.
Next week: A chat with Nine Tony nominee and cabaret chanteuse Karen Akers. Akers brings her new show — Time After Time — to the Algonquin's Oak Room next week, playing April 6-May 15. The Oak Room is located at 59 West 44th Street; call (212) 419 9331 for reservations.
Liz Callaway in Concert:
Now through April 3 in Relative Harmony in New York, NY
April 12-17 in Relative Harmony in Los Angeles, CA
April 23 with Jason Graae in Sutter Creek, CA
April 24-25 with Jason Graae in San Rafael, CA
May 1 in Sibling Revelry in Orono, ME
May 8 in Sibling Revelry in Purchase, NY
Patti LuPone in Concert:
April 3 at the Chattanooga Convention Center in Chattanooga, TN
April 6-24 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York, NY
May 5-8 in Candide with the NY Philharmonic in New York, NY
May 18-30 at the Plush Room in San Francisco, CA
Louise Pitre in Concert:
November 4 at the Brock Centre for the Arts in St. Catherines, ON
November 5 at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts in Oakville, ON
November 6 at the Dr. J.M. Ennis Auditorium in Welland, ON
November 11 at the Heritage Theatre in Brampton, ON
November 12 at the Imperial Oil Centre in Sarnia, ON
November 17 at the Markham Theatre in Markham, ON
November 20 at the Stockey Centre in Parry Sound, ON
November 21 at The Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, ON
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching!