Although a Patti LuPone performance and a passionate audience seem to go hand in hand, the two-time Tony Award winner admits she didn't realize her recent, final performance in the acclaimed, Tony-nominated revival of Gypsy "would be as wildly enthusiastic as it was."
"Basically," a good-humored, candid LuPone explained earlier this week, "I was like a lion tamer trying to control the audience. I felt that once we got onstage, it was about making sure we didn't lose control of the play and that we had to play it as if it was a Tuesday night in the middle of the run as opposed to a Sunday matinee on the closing of a successful production. We had been extremely well-rehearsed by Arthur [Laurents] and loved by Arthur. As a result, all of that love goes into the piece and becomes respect and ownership of the piece, so we were able to hold onto the production of the play, [although] it was pretty difficult. But it was unbelievable."
LuPone says the entire Gypsy experience — arguably her most successful performance to date, one that won the actress a Tony Award, a Drama Desk Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award and the Drama League's Distinguished Performance Award — was a magical one "because of this company and the crew and the orchestra and the ushers. Everybody in the building liked each other! I've never seen a crew and a company interact and hang out with each other. I've never seen ushers more vigilant. And, I've never seen a company more harmonious. We also had great kids. We had unbelievable children in this show. Even the ones that were replacements were as nice and as disciplined and as loving as the kids that they replaced."
Although ending the award-winning experience was "heart-wrenching," LuPone says playing the role of Rose, the stage mother of all stage mothers whose children became actress June Havoc and the late stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, was extremely demanding. "[Co-star] Boyd [Gaines] and I would come offstage in the middle of the Grantziger scene and just look at each other and say, 'I'm going to die.' We thought if we actually ran through March, as we were supposed to, we would have had to take a vacation, and neither one of us wanted to take a vacation. We loved our understudies, but we didn't want to play with our understudies. It's almost harder to play with [someone's] understudy because you don't know what they're going to do, and they don't really know what you're doing because they've been rehearsing with the understudy. Boyd and I, being among the senior members of the company, were gasping like a fish out of water," LuPone laughs.
|photo by Joan Marcus|
LuPone says another camera-related incident that stands out in her mind occurred three decades ago when she and Mandy Patinkin were co-starring in the original Broadway production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Evita. "They were flash cameras [then]; they weren't digital. That's one of the reasons why I believe [taking pictures] became illegal. Not only is it my image — you are not allowed to take my image from me without my permission — that's number one. But number two, it was very dangerous when there were flash bulbs going off. I remember Mandy, in Evita, going down the stage. A guy with a big old camera [was sitting in the front row], and Mandy went, 'C'mon, take my picture! C'mon, take my picture!' During the show! The thing it does is it breaks the theatrical moment. It breaks the theatricality of the [moment] for everybody, for the audience especially. And how can you have a theatrical experience if you are trying to chronicle it?
"So my objections are, 'Don't take my image without my permission.' This is theatre. It is being performed for the audience, for them, in the moment. That needs to be respected. And it is illegal. It used to be for the danger — I think that's pretty much why all of it started. But it is also our image, and it is an illegal control of our image."
LuPone says she is also bothered by theatregoers who place their programs on the edge of the stage. "It's as if you've bought a seat and an end table," she laughs. "Oh, my gosh, I've kicked them off the stage! I've kicked them off at Sweeney, I've kicked them off at Gypsy, I kicked them off for Master Class. They think, because they're in the first row, they can put their programs down on the lip of the stage. They're not thinking of the people that are in the mezzanine and the people that are in the balcony. How can you have a theatrical experience when you're looking at a Playbill, lit up, on the stage?"
And, of course, texting and cell phones remain a problem for all attending the theatre. "I remember some woman actually answered the phone [during the performance] and said [loudly], 'What? What are you talking about?' She got up and continued her conversation as she went out of the row and then up the aisle and out the door," LuPone says with disbelief. "The thing that helped — because we had many, many, many less phone calls during Gypsy than I experienced before — there was a pretty long message at the top of the show. And I think there was enormous respect for the production. I think people have sort of cottoned to who I am at this point, and they know I'm not going to tolerate it. And it's not about — okay, I'll say it's also about me, [but] it's about the audience. It pisses me off if I'm in an audience and I hear a phone going off. . . . That is what is lacking: public manners and that respect for the person sitting to your right, to your left, in front and behind you. That should be an experience that is shared communally with respect for your neighbors."
|photo by Aubrey Reuben|
|photo by Van Williams|
|photo by Brigitte Lacombe|
And, it was during the Kennedy Center run when Merrick removed the show's best-known song, "Meadowlark," from the production. "Well, Merrick didn't like it," LuPone says, "didn't like where it was placed, didn't like how long it was. And then it became a battle between who had power: Stephen [Schwartz] and Motown or David Merrick? Everything was ill-conceived. It just didn't gel. . . . [But] 'Meadowlark' is a great song, and it's become a signature song." Regarding that belty ballad, LuPone adds, "I just want to go on record that I have never claimed 'Meadowlark' was written for me. I know it wasn't. I replaced Carole [Demas], who originated the role and the song. So I never have claimed that 'Meadowlark' was written for me."
Baker's Wife won't be the only theatrical experience LuPone explores in her upcoming autobiography. Expect stories from her days at Juilliard through her Tony-winning triumph in Gypsy. Has LuPone determined a title for the autobiography? "No, but I've always wanted my book to be called 'My Grandmother Was a Bootlegger'!" And, what about a return to Broadway? "Well," LuPone says coyly, "I have a friend [aka David Mamet] who is writing a play and will direct it. I'll let you guess who that friend is. Somebody that I work with frequently. He's not finished with the play, but it's very interesting.
"That would be a way I would like come back to Broadway."
[For Patti LuPone tour dates, visit pattilupone.net.]
|photo by Aubrey Reuben|
Some of Broadway's top stars will take part in The Dramatists Guild Fund's annual benefit gala April 20. Entitled Star Turns: Great Writers Thank Their Lucky Stars!, the evening at the Hudson Theatre will be directed by Dan Foster and hosted by Julie Halston. The one-night-only event will feature the talents of Bernadette Peters, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Jefferson Mays, Idina Menzel, Nathan Lane, Christine Ebersole, David Hyde Pierce, LaChanze, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jane Alexander, B.D. Wong, Karen Olivo and Alan Alda. The stars will be introduced by the writers whose work they will be performing. The evening will begin with cocktails at 7 PM followed by dinner at 7:30 PM and the show at 8:30 PM. The Hudson Theatre is located within the Millennium Hotel, 145 West 44th Street. Tickets are priced $1,000 per person. For more information call The Center for Creative Resources at (212) 864-7827 or visit www.dgfund.org. Initial casting has been announced for the City Center Encores! production of Finian's Rainbow, which will play the famed Manhattan venue March 26-29. The cast of the final Encores! production of the season will be headed by Jim Norton (Finian), Kate Baldwin (Sharon) and Cheyenne Jackson (Woody). The production will be directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle with music direction by Rob Berman. Show times are March 26 at 8 PM, March 27 at 8 PM, March 28 at 2 and 8 PM and March 29 at 6:30 PM. For tickets, priced $25-$95, call (212) 581-1212 or visit www.nycitycenter.org. City Center is located in Manhattan on West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues.
A host of Broadway artists will take part in a concert series presented by The American Musicals Project, the "creative educational curriculum that promotes the study of history and English through musical theatre to seventh and eighth grade students." The concerts, produced by Pamela Hunt, will be held at the New-York Historical Society. Show time for each concert is 7 PM. The series will kick off March 9 with Loesser Is More, The Music of Frank Loesser, which will be hosted by Howard Kissel and will feature Sally Wilfert, Jim Weaver, Rachel DeBenedet and Aaron Ramey. Ted Kociolek will be the evening's musical director. Tony Yazbeck, Mike McGowan and Mark Jacoby will take part in Songs for Men Only on March 16. Pulitzer-winning lyricist Sheldon Harnick will introduce the evening, which will feature such tunes as "Standing on the Corner," "You Gotta Have Heart," "Little Tin Box" and "Politics and Poker." James Brennan will direct the concert with music direction by Matt Castle. On March 23 Emmy Award winner Polly Bergen will host a tribute to women songwriters. The evening, simply titled Broadway's Women, will feature the work of Mary Rodgers (Once Upon a Mattress), Lucy Simon (The Secret Garden), Kay Swift (Fine and Dandy), Dorothy Fields (Sweet Charity) and Betty Comden (On the Town). Annette Jolles directs and Sariva Goetz music directs a cast that includes Lynne Wintersteller, Jessica Burrows and Vanessa Lemonides. The season will conclude April 6 with a gala benefit celebrating the making of Guys and Dolls, the classic musical now enjoying a revival at Broadway's Nederlander Theatre. Pamela Hunt will direct Karen Mason, Michael McGrath, Jeff McCarthy and Garrett Long, who will all offer tunes from the Frank Loesser musical. The evening's special guest will be Loesser's widow, Jo Sullivan Loesser. Evans Haile will be the musical director for the gala. New-York Historical Society is located in Manhattan at 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street). For tickets call (212) 873-3400, ext. 305. For more information visit www.nyhistory.org or www.americanmusicalsproject.org.
Rondi Reed, who won a Tony Award for her performance in August: Osage County, will join the Broadway company of Wicked in March. Beginning March 17, Reed will portray Madame Morrible, the role created on Broadway by Billy Elliot's Carole Shelley. Reed previously played the role in the Chicago production of Wicked. The acclaimed actress will join a cast that includes Nicole Parker as Elphaba, Alli Mauzey as Glinda, P.J. Benjamin as The Wizard, Kevin Kern as Fiyero, Alex Brightman as Boq, Cristy Candler as Nessarose and Timothy Britten Parker as Dr. Dillamond. The Gershwin Theatre is located in Manhattan at 222 West 51st Street. For more information visit www.wickedthemusical.com.
Casting has been announced for the March editions of Broadway Jukebox, the new Sunday-night musical revue created by critic-writer-producer Scott Siegel. March 1 will feature Cheryl Freeman, Annie Golden and Michael Winther; Julie Murney, Kerry O'Malley and Brad Oscar will perform March 8; Norm Lewis and two other artists to be announced will be part of the March 15 Jukebox; and Aaron Lazar and Emily Skinner will belt out show tunes March 22. The 6:30 PM evenings feature direction by Scott Coulter and musical direction by Tedd Firth. Siegel hosts. Jukebox is billed as "the brand new musical revue where the audience picks the songs!" Birdland is located in Manhattan at 315 West 44th Street. There is a $25-$35 music charge; for reservations call (212) 581-3080.
Tony Award winner Sutton Foster, currently starring in Shrek the Musical at the Broadway Theatre, will perform at Feinstein's at Loews Regency in April. Following an acclaimed, sold-out concert for Lincoln Center's American Songbook series, the Tony-winning actress will play the intimate Feinstein's April 6 and 20 at 8:30 PM. Foster will offer tunes from her debut solo recording, "Wish," which just arrived on the Ghostlight Records label. (Foster will also be honored with a Sardi's caricature March 3.) Feinstein's at Loews Regency is located at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street in New York City. There is a $40 cover, with special $60 premium seats available, in addition to a $25 food and beverage minimum. For ticket reservations call (212) 339-4095 or visit feinsteinsatloewsregency.com and TicketWeb.com.