DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Two-Time Tony Winner and An Evening Star Patti LuPone

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Two-Time Tony Winner and An Evening Star Patti LuPone
 
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Patti LuPone
Patti LuPone Photo by Ethan Hill

PATTI LuPONE
For the first time since they took Broadway by storm in the original New York production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Evita, Tony winners Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin are sharing a Broadway stage in An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, which officially opened Nov. 21 to rave reviews at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. And, not since Mary Martin and Ethel Merman famously plopped themselves down on two chairs for a 1953 TV special and dove into a 13-minute duet featuring the songs that made them famous have two musical theatre stars so radically reinterpreted what a concert evening could be — and what two artists could do with two chairs (witness their charming, humorous Act One finale).

Both LuPone and Patinkin are in terrific voice. In a two-act, two-hour show that flies by on a cloud of music, both artists reconfirm their places as two of the most exciting musical theatre stars of their generation. To watch either of these two performers interpret a song is a thrill, but seeing them together on stage three decades after their Tony-winning work in Evita adds another layer of emotional poignancy.

"It's a history of a friendship," Olivier Award winner LuPone told me the morning of her latest Broadway opening. "When I watch him do 'Oh What a Circus,' I'm not nostalgic for Evita in the respect that I would love to play it again, but when I watch him do 'Oh What a Circus' on Broadway, I wish I could go back just one more time, in that production, with that company, and that orchestra, on that stage, in those costumes and lights, and that set, and do it one more time."

LuPone and Mandy Patinkin in An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.
photo by Joan Marcus

Surprisingly, no Broadway producer had ever approached the two stars to reteam following their Evita triumphs, although both won Tony Awards and legions of life-long dedicated fans for their performances. "When I was being pursued for Kiss Me, Kate many years ago, I suggested Mandy for Fred Graham/Petruchio," LuPone remembers. "I believe I was scoffed at. Nobody has ever put us back on a stage together." And, it's been Broadway's loss: Watching these two actors delight with healthy doses of Stephen Sondheim tunes as well as scenes and songs from two Rodgers and Hammerstein gems — South Pacific and Carousel — it makes one wonder what magic they might have brought to a host of musicals throughout the years.

LuPone says the only time she ever appeared in a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical was when she played "Nellie Forbush in South Pacific with the Powdered Wigs Society when I was like 17-years-old at Northport High School." She is currently relishing her chance to wrap her voice around some of the composing giants' material on a Broadway stage. "Are you kidding? I love it!" LuPone exclaims. "I grew up on Rodgers & Hammerstein and Jule Styne and Meredith Willson. I grew up on those musicals. ... Maybe The Enquirer was in business, but there were no rags at the checkout counter at the A&P in East Northport. There were albums, 'Ed Sullivan Presents,' and it was sometimes the original cast members, and sometimes other performers, and you could — for a buck — buy Kiss Me, Kate or Roberta or South Pacific. I don't even know where those albums are anymore. We had stacks of them. ... My mother loved opera and, obviously, musical theatre. My dad listened to jazz, so that played in the house all the time. And, I listened to rock 'n' roll. I wanted to be a rocker, but I would put those [show recordings] on. I had inside chores — I had to dust and vacuum — and I would stage ' Soliloquy' [and] imagine the scenes. I would do the entire 'Fugue for Tinhorns' from Guys and Dolls or 'Ya Got Trouble' from Music Man. I would do all of those things instead of working, and I knew I had a Broadway voice. I knew I didn't have a rocker voice; I just knew that the quality of my voice was a Broadway voice. Probably I knew that because I listened to all of those albums. I went, 'Oh, yeah. Okay. That's what a Broadway voice sounds like, and that's what I'm going to do.' I knew I had a voice, but I did want to be a rocker," LuPone laughs. "I wanted to be a rock 'n' roller!"

LuPone (background) and Patinkin in Evita.
photo by Martha Swope

Recalling working with Patinkin in the original run of Evita, LuPone explains, "Mandy was onstage pretty much all the time that I was onstage, but we never interacted until 'Waltz for Eva and Che.' The thing I remember, as I was scared out of my mind until I went to Australia with Evita, was that whenever Mandy was on, I relaxed. I don't know why that was. Maybe it was a kindred soul — certainly, it was a kindred acting soul — but I totally relaxed, and I knew that I had support, and I knew that I had somebody who was carrying the weight of the show with me. It was a brutal experience for me. There's no denying it. It was the hardest thing that I had to achieve to that point in my life and career, and I was alone.... I just didn't have support, but I did in Mandy. We forged a friendship in [the out-of-town, pre-Broadway engagement in] Los Angeles...definitely a different kind of friendship — a bond. I knew he had my back. I knew that he would protect me. And, I would protect him as best I could, but I was in such a vulnerable state. I would stand up for him, but I don't know how much I could protect him. I knew that he had the strength and the confidence to protect me, and that's what I remember. And, I couldn't wait to get to 'Waltz for Eva and Che' because we would look into each other's eyes and do the dance on stage. And, I don't mean the dance of Che and Eva. I mean two actors working."

When asked why the role of the Argentine girl who rose from the slums of Argentina to become First Lady of the country became easier during her post-Broadway run in Australia, LuPone answers, "I'm not sure. I think just the repetitiveness of doing the part, and I had time off. I had three months off, and so I had time to reflect. It was vocal. It was never acting. It was vocal. There was also goo going down backstage in that I had a very bad set of stage management. What a star of a musical wants, or the leading lady or the leading man of a musical wants, is support backstage. You have to expect [that support] if you [are to] go out and give 100 percent, and I did not have that backstage. It was difficult. It was one of those experiences that I was glad when it was over for a lot of reasons. The fact that I still have my voice is a miracle because I willed my voice in that production. I willed it. Every afternoon when I vocalized...I thought it was gone. The chords must have been swollen every single night, but that was my fault. I didn't have technique, and I didn't have a singing teacher that would be able to handle it. [Co-star] David Vosburgh did finally teach me how to sing the score, but it still was a struggle."

LuPone in Evita.
photo by Martha Swope

Although the production that catapulted her into stardom was difficult, LuPone says there were high points. "I had to get to 'Rainbow High,' which is the highest notes, so you have to go a good hour and 45 minutes before you get to 'Rainbow High.' Once 'Rainbow High' is over, it's smooth sailing, but you only have like 20 minutes left. I was always reveling in the death scene," LuPone laughs. "I'm free! I can really go for it — the death scene. There were great moments. There's great writing, great acting challenges in that piece. The fear was the singing — you hit one note wrong, you traumatize those chords, that's the end of it, and that's how I felt every single night."

"I have to say that I think it's Andrew and Tim's best work," LuPone observes. "I really think it's Andrew and Tim's best work, but I think it's [director] Hal [Prince's] production. I think it was so arresting — so visually arresting — and then the other elements of [why the musical created a new generation of theatregoers] is Evita Peron herself. 'Get them while they're young, Evita, get them while they're young.' That's a line in the play, and she sure did. She hooked kids by seeing that play."

Will LuPone catch the upcoming Broadway revival of Evita? "I definitely will go see [it]. I wouldn't if it was Hal's production, I don't think. I'd be a little scared to, but this isn't Hal's production, and Mandy feels the same way. We'll definitely go see it — not necessarily together, but…"

LuPone in Anything Goes.
photo by Brigitte Lacombe

Evita isn't the only onetime LuPone vehicle on Broadway this season. The Tony-winning revival of Anything Goes, starring Tony winner Sutton Foster, continues at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, and Manhattan Theatre Club recently presented a limited Broadway run of the Tony-winning Terrence McNally drama Master Class starring Tony winner Tyne Daly. LuPone caught both productions. "I wanted to see Tyne and, of course, I love Sutton," the actress says. "You can't help but go back and think of the other people that were in your productions with you. You can't help that. I can't not remember Howard [McGillin] as Billy or Anne Francine or David Pursley. Anybody that I worked with or my four Angels. I think that's natural. I was not making comparisons, but I was taken back to that production. Both productions, I was taken back to my experience with Master Class and my experience with Anything Goes. It's not about comparison. They were great experiences. They were wonderful companies, wonderful plays, wonderful musicals, and you start to think about that. It's the same thing like I said that I was not nostalgic for Evita until I heard Mandy sing 'Oh What a Circus.' That's different because Mandy is the original Che for me, and I wasn't watching the guy that I played with [at Anything Goes or Master Class]. But, you're on a Broadway stage or you're looking at a Broadway stage and you're remembering your experience with that particular play."

In a rarity for Broadway actors, LuPone already knows what her next Main Stem gig will be: starring opposite Emmy Award winner Laurie Metcalf in the new David Mamet play The Anarchist, which is scheduled to arrive on Broadway in fall 2012. "I can just say that I'm onstage at the Barrymore and I'm thinking about it," says LuPone, who previously dazzled Broadway audiences in Mamet's 1997 drama, The Old Neighborhood. "I wanted to write David and say, 'I'm onstage at the Barrymore and I'm thinking about it!' Laurie and I met up in L.A. and we got halfway through it and I saw David. Laurie and I are challenged beyond belief and extremely excited about it. David has written two extremely powerful parts for women, and I've always said that David writes unbelievably complex, emotional women, and there is total proof of that — there has been, as far as I'm concerned, in every play he's written that's had a woman in it. This is further proof. Laurie and I will be challenged, and are thrilled to be doing it. I can't tell you how excited I am. It's a play that hopefully we'll be able to realize and communicate to an audience. It's a hard one."

LuPone in An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.
photo by Joan Marcus

For now the Broadway favorite is delighting audiences eight times a week with beautiful renditions of "A Quiet Thing," "I Want a Man" and "In Buddy's Eyes" as well as potent takes on signature tunes "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" and "Everything's Coming Up Roses," which both remain as stirring as ever. "I'm shocked," says LuPone about the resilience of her voice. "You know what, I keep learning lessons.... I think, for me, it's the most natural thing I do and the hardest thing for me to do — to sing — because I developed such bad habits very early on. As a kid, even before the idea of a singing teacher, I was afraid that if I didn't produce the sounds in that particular way — muscling it — it wouldn't come out, and it took a long time before I could trust the fact that there was a different sound, that I would understand how to produce it and produce a different sound. I would sing Evita better now than I did before."

So, why only 63 performances of An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin? "Darling, we're booked in Kansas," LuPone says with a big laugh. "Got to move on! We had a booking in Kansas at the Kauffman Performing Arts Center before we were coming to Broadway and we're playing a week there. We gotta go! Got to honor those contracts!" Take note, theatregoers, LuPone and Patinkin's enchanted Evening only runs through Jan. 13, 2012.

[Ticket prices range from $71.50 to $136.50 (20 $25 rush tickets — plus $1.50 facility fee — are available for purchase on the day of each performance when the box office opens. The Barrymore Theatre is located at 243 West 47th Street.] Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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