Remembering Robert LuPone | Playbill

Seth Rudetsky Remembering Robert LuPone

Seth recounts the clever tricks Bob pulled to keep his Chorus Line costars on their toes. Plus, Audra McDonald and Michael Cerveris reveal the songs and entire scores they've completely forgotten.

Robert LuPone
Robert LuPone Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Boo! Summer is winding down, and so is my 2022 season in Provincetown. I only have two concerts coming up. The first is with Jessica Vosk this weekend, and the second is with Beth Malone in the last weekend of September.

The good news is that my Ptown concert with Audra McDonald was so great!

Of course, I asked her about the current season of The Gilded Age and, not surprisingly, she loves doing the show. However, filming outdoors in the summer heat while wearing a corset is decidedly not fun. #heatstroke

Speaking of corsets, when she first gets dressed in the morning, put Audra says it feels so easy. She’s always telling her dresser that they can make it a bit tighter. As the day goes on, however, it gets a little trickier! After lunchtime is when it gets to be a particular kind of nightmare. I asked if she could just let it out a few inches in the afternoon, but Audra explained that her scenes are filmed out of order or not necessarily finished before lunch. The scene can't begin with her sporting a tiny waist and then finish up with her looking like she's wearing the Victorian version of a muumuu! 

Audra also mentioned that in late 1800s New York, people did not tend to socialize outside their immediate family and neighbors. Audra's character only interacts with a small group, so Audra finds herself with pretty much the same actors day in and day out. She laughingly told us, “As far as I’m concerned, The Gilded Age is an all-black show!”

Interestingly, she did see Michael Cerveris while filming. Michael mentioned he was coming to Provincetown, so we all wound up hanging out on the night before her concert. I mentioned to Michael that he should do a duet in the show, and started singing “Dice Are Rolling." Michael asked what show that was from, and I reminded him it was from Evita, in which he starred as Peron and was nominated for a Tony Award! Michael then asked me to sing the part of the song that he sang, and I told him I was singing his part. Suffice it to say, he has subsequently forgotten that score. 

Michael then reminisced about playing opposite Audra in shows at Ravinia, including Sunday in the Park with George. Upon hearing that title, I told him we had to do “Move On." During the concert, I brought up their production of Sunday and Audra talked about her experience “going into the white room.” For those of you not in the know, that's performer-speak for completely forgetting everything.  It hit Audra at the beginning of the title song. Paul Gemignani conducted to these two big chords and then there was silence. Audra could not remember the lyrics! At all. 

Barely skipping a beat, Paul began yelling the lyrics to her without realizing he was still too far away for her to hear. She said it probably took a very long 45 seconds until she came in with the correct lyrics. I confronted Michael and asked why he didn’t help her. He said he was too nervous about his own upcoming lyrics to remember hers. Regardless, they remembered it this time and wound up doing a truly stunning rendition of “Move On.” Check it out!

In less-lighthearted news, I was sad to hear of the passing of Robert (Bob) LuPone. I met Bob a few years ago when he was a guest on my radio show. Whenever I’d watch the A Chorus Line Tony Award clip, I’d notice how coldly he demonstrated the various steps and assumed his personality was just like his character Zach’s. Well, when I finally met him, I was so delighted to find out he was so sweet! No joke, after my interview, I emailed him and told him I wanted to set him up with an actress I knew who was recently single. I said he seemed like amazing boyfriend material. He kindly informed that he’d been happily married for decades. #Oops #DoYourResearch #YentaFail

I'd love to share a recap of my interview with dear Bob. 

Bob told me that he grew up dancing, often teaming up with his twin brother and his sister, the Patti LuPone! He even majored in dance at  Juilliard. Sadly, he sustained an injury that prevented him from pursuing a “serious” dance career, though he was able to dance well enough for Broadway. Yay! Interestingly, he was not the original Zach in the Chorus Line workshop. He was actually first cast by Michael Bennett as Al. You'll remember Al as the one who is married to Kristine and sings the song “Sing.

Barry Bostwick originally played Zach, and had come from Grease as the original Danny. Luckily for Bob, Barry soon left the Chorus Line workshop, which gave Bob the opportunity to share with Michael that he felt he could play Zach well. Michael gave him the part, changing everything for Bob. 

Bob said that when he was Al, he was one of the gang and Michael was super friendly. However, when he took over the role of Zach, Michael became cold, distant, and often angry. Bob was so confused! He had no idea why. He later realized, and this was much later, that the role of Zach was based on Michael himself. Maybe because we dislike in others what we see in ourselves, Michael shut Bob out when Bob began to play a character Michael saw as himself.

Regardless, the show became a huge hit, and Bob was nominated for a Tony Award. While the award went to his co-star, Sammy Williams, who played Paul, Bob got to perform that amazing number on television. Terrifyingly, Bob was center stage. Despite the pressure and the nerves, he demonstrated the hardest section of the number  (turn, turn, out, in) double pirouette, arabesque, and final turn. It is clean! See it and believe it. 

I asked Bob for some fun Chorus Line stories and he shared with me all the things he would try to keep the show fresh. 

If you don’t know, all of A Chorus Line is supposed to be an audition and everyone onstage is supposed to be in that nervous “I really need this job” state throughout. After a few months of performances, Bob noticed the actors becoming a bit relaxed. He wanted to think of a way to keep everyone on their toes and bit nervous. 

After the opening dance audition number, his character Zach asks people on the line about their childhood. He starts with Mike. Well, if Bob sensed the cast was too relaxed, he would switch it up and say, “Let’s start with Val!” Suddenly everyone would snap to attention. Bob would eventually bring it back to the script, but it was a great way to get everyone to be in the moment. Here’s my favorite “Zach-making-everyone-feel-it’s-an-audition” story. This one happened during the European tour.

Before the dancers are cut during the opening number, the dialogue is as follows.

ZACH: (To a female dancer) Any Broadway shows?


DANCER: Touring company!

But this Zach, like Bob, wanted to shake things up and make his fellow actors feel like they were really at an audition. He added a line, but it didn’t work out the way he wanted. Here’s what happened!


ZACH: (To female dancer) Any Broadway shows?


DANCER: Touring company


ZACH: Really? What show?

This is where it all goes unexpectedly. The actress who played the female dancer began to panic, unable to think of a single show title. 

DANCER: Um….A Chorus Line?


That’s right. The only show title she could think of was the show she literally doing at that exact moment. The audience was like, “We’re watching the show, but we’re also in the show? Are we watching a surreal play by Sartre?”


Needless to say, a nerve-wracking moment for all in the theatre.

Here’s Bob during our Stars In The House reunion episode of A Chorus Line. Watch and rest in peace, Bob LuPone!

 
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