DIVA TALK: Women on the Verge Nominees (& Gypsy Tony Winners) Patti LuPone and Laura Benanti

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Women on the Verge Nominees (& Gypsy Tony Winners) Patti LuPone and Laura Benanti
 
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Patti LuPone
Patti LuPone Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

PATTI LuPONE
It's been a good few months for that Tony and Olivier Award-winning talent Patti LuPone, who received her sixth Tony nomination May 3 for her comedic and touching performance in the new musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which was seen on Broadway earlier this season. Although the musical, which was based on Pedro Almodóvar's Oscar-nominated 1988 film, played only 100 performances at the Belasco Theatre, LuPone's performance as the jilted Lucia was so memorable that she also recently received Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical. She is also one of seven past recipients of The Drama League's Distinguished Performance Award who will be honored on a dais for her work this season at the League's upcoming awards ceremony.

The morning the Tony nominations were announced, LuPone told this more-than-30-year fan, "I was watching the news because I am kind of obsessed with what's happening with the recent events in the world, and I thought, 'Who's calling me [so early] in the morning?,'" she laughs. "I totally forgot. And, it was [my press agent] Philip [Rinaldi]."

"I was thrilled," LuPone says, explaining, "First of all, I was thrilled when it was the Outer Critics, because that's the first one [that was announced], and then thrilled when it was the Drama Desk, and then thrilled when it was the Tony! Laura [Benanti] and I — I'm so thrilled for both of us, and for [composer] David [Yazbek] and the show because it was a long time ago, and I'm very proud to have been part of the production. Very proud to have been a member of that cast in that bold, original musical that didn't deserve to close."

LuPone in Women on the Verge
photo by Paul Kolnik

LuPone says she and the cast were "brokenhearted when [Women on the Verge] closed. I think that anything original needs to be supported — all of our composers and lyricists and playwrights that turn in original material need to be supported. They need to be allowed to grow. We need to be able to learn and be enriched by their new ideas, and so I'm thrilled beyond belief that the nominating committee of these awards have not forgotten and acknowledged the production, the music, the performances — I'm really, really thrilled!"

Although the former Evita star realizes that "hindsight is 20/20," she believes that a longer preview period could have benefited the production, saying, "It was a very complicated and intricate technical period, and basically after the tech, we opened, as opposed to after the tech the actors got a chance to understand that material in that environment. Perhaps another week or two. We really understood it so much better a month into the run — just the playing of it, how to temper it." The two-time Tony winner says that although the run was brief, the experience was a terrific one. "That was a great company. It was a great backstage, the crew at the Belasco are just fantastic, and my favorite theatres are the St. James and the Belasco, and they've become my favorite theatres because of the people that are the house crew and the house management, and of course the Belasco is a magical theatre—it's so beautiful. It was great stage management, and it was a great company, and everybody was happy to be on stage, I think! Well, most of us were happy to be onstage in that production. It really had a vibrancy and excitement, and it was a very copacetic company — a very supporting and loving company."

LuPone in Company.
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Another wonderful company was the Company that the New York Philharmonic presented the weekend of April 7. LuPone, who played the truth-talking, booze-fueled Joanne in a cast that also boasted Emmy winner Neil Patrick Harris as perennial bachelor Bobby, dazzled with an emotionally potent rendition of "The Ladies Who Lunch" that confirmed that more than three decades after she took the theatre world by storm in Evita, her powers as an actress and singer have only grown in strength.

"I'm lucky. I'm having great experiences," LuPone says. "It was a lot of fun, and that's difficult in another way. It's worse than summer stock because you have so little time to put it on, but I've done these so many times, and I know how prepared you have to be, and I made sure that I was, but I still had to learn both of those dances — 'Company' and 'Side by Side,' but it was great. It was great being with that cast as well, another really wonderful company. I've been lucky — ever since Gypsy, ever since Sweeney, I've been lucky to have really wonderful companies, and really talented companies — people that want to be there."

Those who missed the concerts, fear not. The starry concert production of the Stephen Sondheim and George Furth musical was filmed live and will arrive in movie theatres nationwide beginning June 15.

LuPone, it should be noted, is currently making her New York City Ballet debut in Kurt Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins, under the direction of Tony nominee Lynne Taylor-Corbett, at the David Koch Theater. A morality play, Sins tells the story of Anna, who is played by both a singer (LuPone) and a dancer (Wendy Whelan).

"Wendy Whelan, first of all, is one of my favorite principals with New York City Ballet," LuPone says, "so I was thrilled when I heard that it was being choreographed for her because I thought, 'Oh my God. I'm going to stand on stage next to her!' My big challenge has been not to watch Wendy dance and also not to watch the other kids — the kids in the corps and some of the other soloists. These dancers are supremely artistic and supremely technical, athletic people... and they are really, really nice. I'm having a lot of fun with the entire company.... It's just been an enriching experience, and it's booked for next season, so I am a card-carrying member of the New York City Ballet!"

"What's left for me?" LuPone asks with a laugh. "I've been a musician! Maybe a stagehand of the Met?"

[Tickets for Seven Deadly Sins, which continues through May 15, are on sale at the David H. Koch Theater box office, through Center Charge at (212) 721-6500, and at nycballet.com.]

Laura Benanti
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

LAURA BENANTI
It was Laura Benanti's mother who delivered the good news the morning the Tony nominations were announced.

"I was thrilled," the golden-voiced Benanti told me that same morning. "I was laughing. I was totally surprised. I was genuinely surprised because our show closed so long ago, I didn't know if we'd be remembered. I was thrilled that it was me and Patti [LuPone] and [David] Yazbeck, and I was just so happy that our show has been acknowledged, and it was great to hear from my mom!"

Benanti also received nominations from the Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk and Drama League for her work as the ditzy model Candela in Women on the Verge. Being remembered, she says, is "a wonderful feeling. I think the tricky thing about doing theatre is that it's ephemeral. It's not like a movie or a TV show where you can go back and watch footage of it. It has to live in people's minds, and to me the idea that this character lived in people's minds that long is tremendously gratifying."

Looking back, the actress, who won her Tony Award for her performance in the title role of the Patti LuPone revival of Gypsy, says the most challenging part of Women on the Verge was "the song ['Model Behavior']. I needed to have a lot of stamina," she laughs, "but... she was so fun to play; it was so blissful being on stage. I loved being able to be as silly as I am, and have people actually see that I'm not a serious person, but a silly person, so every minute of it was a joy for me."

Benanti in Women on the Verge.
photo by Paul Kolnik

Benanti, whose new pilot "The Playboy Club" was just picked up by NBC, will return to the Manhattan cabaret Feinstein's at Loews Regency May 22 for an encore performance of her one-woman show, Let Me Entertain You. Her previous outing on May 1, she says, was "awesome, so fun. [Musical director] Mary Mitchell-Campbell and I, we're such close friends, so I feel like our dynamic is pretty relaxed together. It was just great to see it was so full, and there were so many people that I loved there and so many friends — even people that I grew up with — so it was really exciting. I'm really excited for the 22nd because now my family is going to be there, and my husband is going to be there, and my in-laws, and my friends, so that should be a blast!" "The thing that I love about doing those shows is that people really get to see you beyond the parts that you play or your public persona," Benanti adds, "so I feel like people have more of an understanding of who you are as a human being, so that when they do then see you in a role, they know who you are. It's also an opportunity to sing some of my favorite songs — songs I've sung in shows that I've done but also things that I'd love to sing  — and just in general make a fool of myself, which I really enjoy doing."

[Feinstein's at Loews Regency is located at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street in New York City. For ticket reservations call (212) 339-4095 or visit feinsteinsatloewsregency.com and TicketWeb.com.]

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Highlights from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown:

 

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