Patti LuPone Prepares to Christen NYC Nightclub, 54 Below, With Faraway Places

By Andrew Gans
May 31, 2012

For those who missed Olivier and two-time Tony winner Patti LuPone's now-legendary nightclub engagement at Les Mouches during her run in the original production of Evita, fret no more: The dynamic artist is set to christen the new theatre-district nightspot, 54 Below, with a two-week engagement that begins June 5.



"I got a telephone call from my agent with the offer to open the club, and Richard [Frankel] is very dear to me as are [Tom Viertel, Marc Routh and Steven Baruch]," LuPone said earlier this week. "I love them all... because they've been my producer on two shows, and I was very happy to oblige… And, it gave me the opportunity to break in a new show!"

Tony Award-winning producers Viertel, Routh, Frankel and Baruch are the forces behind the new nightclub and restaurant at 254 W. 54th Street, one floor below Studio 54.

Frankel told Playbill.com it didn't take long for him or his fellow producers to decide which artist should open their new endeavor.

"We needed a huge star to open with a bang," Frankel told Playbill.com. "We needed one of the biggest Broadway stars. We love [Patti]. We did Sweeney with her, which was one of the best experiences of our lives. And, we did Gypsy with her, which was also just a blithering love-fest. And, it took about a microsecond of figuring it out — which of the biggest Broadway stars we would go to."

LuPone, it should be noted, was Tony-nominated for her tuba-playing turn in the John Doyle-directed revival of Sweeney Todd, and she nabbed her second Tony Award for her breathtaking performance in the Arthur Laurents-directed revival of Gypsy.

LuPone in Gypsy.
photo by Joan Marcus

When asked what makes LuPone unique as a performer, Frankel answered with a laugh, "Where do you start?"

"The voice, her theatre sense," he continued. "She's an actress first and foremost... and that's why she communicates so well. And, that's why [audiences] love her as passionately as they do. ...She is the real deal, theatre-wise, and there are not that many."

LuPone revealed her 54 Below program, which is entitled Faraway Places, will feature "a little bit of Gypsy in My Soul, which has never been done in New York, and one song from Patti LuPone on Broadway, 'Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking,' and the rest is brand new." Among the new songs are "Pirate Jenny," "Traveling Light," "Black Market" and the title tune. "This is the first act of what will eventually be a two-act show, and I can have a return engagement for the second act," LuPone said with a laugh.

(The singing actress is scheduled to return to Broadway later this season in David Mamet's play The Anarchist. She said of that coming project, "I'm really, really anxious and excited for this piece to happen. David's been accused of not writing female characters, and I've played several of them, and it's a total fallacy. He's a great writer of women, and these are two kick-ass, powerful parts for women of a certain age, as they say.")

Scott Wittman
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
The new concert act for 54 Below was created with Tony winner Scott Wittman and musical director Joseph Thalken. "I can't move without [them]," LuPone said. "Joe [has found] musicians who can double. So the violinist plays reeds, and the accordionist will play keyboards, and the guitarist will play a banjo, and the drummer will play percussion, which is fabulous."

Those musicians include Thalken on piano, Andy Stein on violin and saxophone, Larry Saltzman on guitar and banjo, Antony Geralis on accordion and keyboards and Paul Pizzuti on drums.

Discussing the difference between playing a large concert hall versus a more intimate space like 54 Below, LuPone said, "Well, I always hearken back to the days of The Acting Company, when we were thrown into situations where it would be a 90-seat house or a 9,000-seat house — literally. All of my experience on the road — if it wasn't The Muny opera house, it was some black box — teach you how to adjust performances. That kind of experience ... and all of the touring I do now helps me as well. I'm sure everybody who goes out there and plays performing arts centers learns very quickly how to adjust because some of them are built extremely poorly, and you have to fight to be heard. Some of them are gigantic and are the most intimate houses. It depends on the venue.... But again, it's experience that teaches you how to project and deliver in houses like this....It's always about the acoustics and sightlines, but really about acoustics. And, if the acoustics are good, then I'm home free."

LuPone said only once during its heyday did she get to visit the famed Studio 54. "I went there once, and I didn't get the place. I preferred Xenon and then later the Tunnel. Actually, what I preferred were the discotheques when I first got to New York City in the late '60s. Cheetah and Ondine — some of them had live bands, and that, to me, was better than the disco thump ... Maybe I was intimidated by Studio 54, but I was not a fixture there. I was a fixture at a couple of the other places!"

Although she has yet to visit the new nightspot, LuPone said, "I understand it's quite beautiful, and it's exciting to have a little bit of glamorous nightlife in New York again!" Producer Frankel added, "No seat is more than 23 feet from the stage. People in the furthest banquette are going to be 23 feet from the stage. It's like being in a living room with a Steinway baby grand and Patti and five musicians. It's going to be beyond spectacular!"

54 Below is located at 254 W. 54th Street. Tickets and information are available at 54Below.com.