DIVA TALK -- Patti Mania Continues

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Patti LuPone

Patti LuPone

It's a mostly-Patti column this week as more reviews of La LuPone as La Divina are pouring in. . .

David Patrick Stearns in USA Today:

". . .So it shouldn't be surprising that she has no problem following Caldwell, though the two interpretations are so different they're hardly on the same continuum.

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Caldwell didn't really portray Callas; she was more an aging deity from classical antiquity who had woken up in the unbearably mediocre 20th century. LuPone plays Callas. Besides her physical resemblance to La Divina, LuPone is younger than Caldwell, more the age Callas was when she gave master classes at the Juilliard School of Music. This accentuates the Callas tragedy: At an age when she should've been doing her best singing, she was vocally burned out.

While LuPone doesn't go so far as to attempt a Callas impersonation, she seizes on key aspects of Callas' personality. Born in New York, Callas had an odd pan-European accent that LuPone not only captures, but uses to show what a self-created person Callas was.

Moreover, LuPone makes Callas' imperiousness funny and infectious. Like a champion bullfighter, she gets the audience on her side with her outsized audacity, even though she's giving everyone in sight (including latecomers in the audience) a hard time. She's a good reason anyone who enjoyed the play with Caldwell shouldn't hesitate to see it again. With LuPone, it's a whole new experience. "

This seems to be a trademark with our ladies. First Betty B seized the role of Norma Desmond from that film actress and totally transformed the New York production of Sunset Boulevard. And, now our gal Patti has made Master Class her own. Here's another similar opinion: Michael Feingold in The Village Voice:

". . . To say Master Class is a whole new trip with LuPone is an understatement; her driving style makes McNally's zippily diverting sport mobile seem to be a different car. . . LuPone veers in daringly different directions [than Caldwell]. From the start, when she storms through the double doors upstage center, her Callas is less an avenging fury determined to subdue the onlookers than a woman struggling to keep her own hounding emotions at bay. Where Caldwell dished the students from a peak of hauteur, LuPone pleads with them for understanding, positively writhing in helpless pain when they commit some innocently philistine lapse.

Where Caldwell seemed snakily eager to undercut, LuPone is desperate to help. More innately musical than Caldwell, as well as more willing to convey vulnerability, she enriches the class scenes by her responsiveness to both the students' jitters and the sounds of the arias. When she speaks the Italian lyrics over the piano accompaniment, translating as she goes, we get both a trained singer's shrewd sense of phrasing and a performing artist's passion for her materials, neither of which Caldwell conveyed. Suddenly, the scenes are about teaching; suddenly the depth and range of knowledge that make the transcript of Callas's classes the only necessary book for young music-theater artists are at least half present in a script from which they once seemed puzzlingly absent.

. . .LuPone gets her own back in the second flashback, playing Onassis's crudities not as in imitation but as insults that have mountingly horrific effect on her. The climax, when he refuses to marry her and compels her to abort the baby they've conceived, LuPone plays full out, letting the pain suffuse the auditorium. Again, suddenly, the play now has a structure, building to this tragic peak: All the art in the world can't compensate Callas for the loss. . .What's most gratifying is the way LuPone, by bringing its somber and painful side to light, has revalidated McNally's script, turning an easy ride in a fast machine into something more like a jagged descent into the depths. . ."

LuPone took her curtain call on opening night, then a deep breath and was off to San Francisco for her first-ever appearance with the San Francisco Symphony. I received a barrage of e-mails from all the Patti lovers out there who saw her concert, and there were raves all around. Some of the comments from the Playbill On-Line folks lucky enough to see LuPone include:

"First of all she looked fabulous. . ."As Long As He Needs Me," which for me was the highlight--she sang the hell out of it. . ." -- Kim "She was wonderful. Gorgeous and in fine voice, she was at ease and warm, giving attention to even the audience sitting in the section behind her and the orchestra. She gave us song after song with hardly a pause between! She joked with us and bantered with her conductor . . . her final encore was, of course, "As If We Never Said Goodbye," and she gave me goosebumps she was so emotional! I'm still high from the experience." -- Joey

"She appeared in San Francisco with the Pops on Saturday night, and was absolutely wonderful. Boy can she pack in the songs. . .she was very personable (and did relay a few stories and even cracked a joke or two) [but] she was there to sing. And did she ever! Fabulous!" -- Tricia

"She showed San Francisco why she is one of the living legends of the musical stage. She was in perfect voice, her diction was flawless, her ease and grace apparent--sweet, vulnerable in "Someone to Watch Over Me," powerful and gripping in "Lonely Heart.". . .I've never had the chance to see her live before. I will never forget it, it will never be equaled again. . .it was a once in a lifetime event." -- Brian

Chris, a loyal LuPone fan, sent a copy of her song list: Hostess with the Mostes'
Best Thing For You/Lonely Heart/Always
I'll Tell the Man in the Street
No Strings
Something's Coming/Someone to Watch Over Me
Let Yourself Go
Peel Me a Grape
There's No Business Like Show Business
Don't Cry for Me Argentina
Meadowlark
As Long As He Needs Me
Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
Anything Goes
Being Alive
Don't Like Goodbyes
Lost in the Stars
100 Years from Today/The Melody Lingers On
As If We Never Said Goodbye

And, Kim sent a program and a review from the San Francisco Chronicle written by Octavio Roca. In the review, Roca writes:

"Roars of approval met her entrance; a standing ovation followed her exit. In between LuPone treated the audience at Davies Hall to the spectacle of the greatest living star of the American musical theatre, at ease and in control, at the top of her glorious form. The voice was supple, vibrant and strong--strong enough, in fact, to fill the huge hall without benefit of microphone in two encores near the end. She closed with a complete scene, becoming Andrew Lloyd Webber's demented and devastating Norma Desmond singing "As If We Never Said Goodbye." When the fans burst into applause mid-song, at the soaring line "I've come home at last," it was Desmond not LuPone who silenced them with a frightened look: Here was a real master class on how to move an audience.

. . . "The Hostess with the Mostes'" from Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam got things going, and served as a reminder that LuPone was once touted as the new Ethel Merman. She is something else, actually. She was her own formidable creation in this song, with jazzy rubato and saucy phrasing that all but banished thoughts of other interpretations. . .The vulnerability at the top of the voice was touching, even though LuPone's singing has grown more powerful with the years. I remember admiring her in The Baker's Wife in 1976, opposite both Topol and Paul Sorvino, but I don't remember her rendition of "Meadowlark" in that underrated musical being as majestically feminine as it was at Davies Saturday night. By the same token, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" from Evita was both a souvenir of one of the great moments in Broadway history and a living, fresh look at an unforgettable musical character."

BETTY BUCKLEY Hope you caught Buckley on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" recently. Buckley performed her beautiful rendition of "With One Look," then spoke with O'Donnell, who, it seems, is also a huge Betty fan. Buckley presented O'Donnell with her very own Norma Desmond turban, which O'Donnell modeled for the audience and then struck her own Norma pose.

Three cheers for Rosie, who seems to be one of the few talk show hosts who really loves and promotes the theatre. In her brief time on the air, O'Donnell has had the casts of Rent, Bring in 'Da Noise/Bring in 'Da Funk, Stomp and other shows perform on air.

Also, there's now only a month left to catch Betty B as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. If you haven't caught her magnificent performance, what are you waiting for?

BERNADETTE PETERS

I was sent an early release of Bernadette's upcoming album, her first solo album in well over a decade. I'll give you a report on the recording, entitled "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," next week. I'm still listening and trying to absorb it all. . .

ELAINE PAIGE
Well, the new diva on the block has finally arrived. . .Elaine Paige is now settled in New York, getting ready to begin rehearsals as the newest Norma in the N.Y. production of Sunset. Her latest recording, Encore, is now available in record stores throughout the U.S. on the Atlantic Records label. For those of you who have never heard Paige sing, I suggest you buy this recording, and you will see why she has been dubbed the "First Lady of the British Musical Theatre." The recording contains her show-stopping renditions of "With One Look" and "As If We Never Said Goodbye," plus other great theatre songs including "I Dreamed a Dream, " "On My Own," "Don't Cry for Me Argentina, " "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and many others.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Ms. Paige this week for an article for Playbill Magazine. She is a very charming, down-to-earth and funny lady, who is very excited about finally making her Broadway debut--it's been 20 years in the making. More on the interview next time.

That's all for now. Happy diva-watching!

-- By Andrew Gans
(E-mail me at andrew_gans@playbill.com.)

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