ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Patti LuPone Remembers Les Miz High Note; Heidi Blickenstaff Recalls Mermaid Low Note

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07 Jan 2013

Patti LuPone
Patti LuPone
Photo by Ethan Hill

A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.

Hello from Jet Blue Gate 14. The one right after Gate 12. That’s right, I just noticed there’s no Gate 13! It’s very interesting to me that superstition is so strong here in the U.S. that there are many buildings that don’t have a 13th floor, and JFK opts out of Gate 13. Cut to, if my flight were leaving from Gate 13, I’d immediately buy a bus ticket.

Anyhoo, I’m on my way to New Orleans to start the Broadway Series that Mark Cortale and I are putting together at NOCA. Tonight (Jan. 7) is Patti LuPone, and then I’ll be with Sutton Foster, Megan Mullally, Audra McDonald and Betty Buckley. Speaking of Patti, she guest-starred on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show, and we had plenty to talk about! Naturally, we discussed the Les Miz film and specifically her memories of playing Fantine in the original London cast. Turns out, as soon as she got to England, she got a cough that didn’t go away til she came back to the States. She remembered that she would cough so hard, she’d see stars…and I don’t mean Linda Evans (I tried to think of a signature ‘80’s star). Even though her cough was chronic, she never did it onstage due to what she called “Dr. Broadway.” If you don’t know, that’s the expression that implies that sickness magically goes away when you’re onstage. Of course, in her case, it was “Dr. West End.” Or, more specifically, “Dr. Royal Shakespeare Company.” Patti also had been in a relationship with someone in New York in the mid-80’s, but right before she began Les Miz, they broke up. She thinks that the break-up and the coughing actually helped her interpretation because just like Fantine, she was, as she says, “broken-hearted and consumptive.” Perfect!

Patti also had a great story about her input into the score. She was rehearsing “I Dreamed a Dream” and remembers she was thinking, “How do I land this song?” She got to the part where Fantine sings “… as they turn your dreams to shame.” Well, turns out, originally Fantine stayed on the same note, and it was the orchestra that did the long ascending line up a fifth. Patti asked the composer whether she could sing the ascending line instead, and he said yes, and thus was born one of my favorite parts of the song. And, on a side note, I haven’t seen the Les Miserables film yet, but I am getting crazy from everyone excusing certain (supposedly) not great singing by saying that people are “acting” the song instead. To me, that statement says people can either sing or act a song. As anyone who has seen a great Broadway star knows, you can do both! Here is a clip of the concert I did with Patti in Provincetown, and watch her amazingly moving acting yet phenomenal well-placed high notes!


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