DIVA TALK: Rose in Full Bloom — Chatting with Gypsy Star Patti LuPone

News   DIVA TALK: Rose in Full Bloom — Chatting with Gypsy Star Patti LuPone
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Patti LuPone
Patti LuPone Photo by Ethan Hill

Those lucky enough to catch the limited New York engagement of Gypsy this past summer — the first production of City Center's Encores! Summer Stars series — knew they were witnessing something special. Not only did the musical boast direction by one of its original creators, librettist Arthur Laurents, but it also starred Tony and Olivier Award winner Patti LuPone as the indomitable stage mother Rose, a part the Juilliard graduate seemed destined to play ever since she burst forth on the Broadway scene thrillingly portraying roles as complex and demanding as Eva Peron in Evita and Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes.

Fans of LuPone — who had waited years for the actress to get her shot at the role that had been created by the late, legendary Ethel Merman and subsequently played beautifully by Tony winners Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly and Bernadette Peters — filled the cavernous City Center nightly, and when LuPone first appeared running down the aisle shouting, "Sing out, Louise!," the roar from the audience was as deafening as any entrance applause one will ever likely encounter.

"That [response] was unbelievable," LuPone recently admitted. "At the first preview Arthur [Laurents] said, 'Now don't expect this every night,' and we had it every night," she laughs. And, LuPone is currently receiving the same greeting in the Broadway production of Gypsy, which officially opens at the St. James Theatre March 27.

About the City Center-to-Broadway transfer, LuPone says, "I'm thrilled to death. This was an extraordinary company, and the fact that everybody was secretly praying that this would move [to Broadway] and everybody was available — minus Nancy Opel, which is sad, but she's replaced by the very brilliant Lenora Nemetz [as Mazeppa] — was great. It's fate."

LuPone is joined onstage at the St. James by Broadway veteran Boyd Gaines as the beleaguered Herbie and two-time Tony nominee Laura Benanti as the wallflower-turned-world-famous-stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. And, the Mrs. Lovett of the recent Sweeney Todd revival has nothing but praise for her co-stars. "Just trust in each other, trust in the director, trust in the material and then you can leave everything alone," she says. "Laura and I have great trust with each other." Benanti returns the compliment: "Patti is one of — maybe the most generous person I've ever worked with. She's so smart and so committed and so kind and generous onstage and funny! Everything is a positive — everything is from a positive place. She's just an amazing person, and watching her is truly a master class in acting."

Patti LuPone with Boyd Gaines
photo by Paul Kolnik

About her Herbie, three-time Tony winner Gaines, LuPone adds, "I am just so crazy about Boyd. My performance wouldn't be my performance without him. Or Laura. You're not alone out there. . . If there is another actor onstage that can support, transport you, illuminate, there's nothing like it. That is the ecstasy and the joy of theatre for me. I am blessed with two and then followed by an entire company of really focused [actors]." Unlike Gypsy's long-suffering June and Louise, LuPone, it should be noted, was not the daughter of a stage mother. In fact, LuPone laughs, "[My mother] once famously said to my brother [actor-director Robert LuPone], 'I wish you wouldn't flit from job to job!'" LuPone, however, believes she is able to bring Rose so fully to life because the musical is "a mother's lament, and I'm a mother." In fact, it is partly due to her own son, Josh, that Gypsy is now being enjoyed on this side of the Atlantic. "I have one more year of my son living at home," LuPone explains, "which he doesn't even do! He's at boarding school, but it's in the same state at least. I did not want to go to London for a year while my son was in school in America. I expressed that." That said, LuPone would eventually like to bring her Rose to London audiences. "I'm still hoping that it goes to London at some point and that I'm involved with the London production."

LuPone's performance at City Center — as exciting vocally as it was emotionally layered — was funny, moving and especially riveting in the showstoppers that end each act: "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "Rose's Turn." About the former, LuPone says, "[Rose] has just been blindsided by June's departure, but she's a survivor. Arthur said that he didn't want Tyne [Daly] to cry, Arthur didn't want Linda Lavin to cry, he didn't want anybody to cry. And, he's right. That is an admission of defeat. Rose can't do that. . . .You've got another act to play, and the character can't go there at that point. They have to keep moving forward. She has to survive. She's holding that family together." LuPone does admit that it's during "Everything's Coming Up Roses" where "you see this woman starting to fall apart."

As for "Rose's Turn," the monologue-in-song where Rose finally gets the chance to spew out a life's worth of frustrations, LuPone says there is "even more anger and confusion." LuPone's gut-wrenching performance of "Rose's Turn" is so emotionally raw one wonders the effect on its performer. "It's cathartic," LuPone says, "[and] it's draining too, but [during the City Center run] I didn't go home and go straight to bed."

Rose, LuPone concludes, "wants the best for her kids. . . regardless of whether they want it or not. . . She loves her children, and she is fiercely protective and desires only the best for them. . . but they're her desires."

And, how does LuPone feel about returning to the eight-show-a-week Broadway schedule? "It is grueling," she says, "but it is a great discipline, and I have the muscle for it. It's the only thing I know really."

[Gypsy plays the St. James Theatre, located in Manhattan at 246 West 44th Street. Tickets, priced $42-$117, are available by calling (212) 239-6200 or by visiting www.telecharge.com.]

A one-night-only concert staging of the new musical The People vs. Mona will be presented at the York Theatre Company March 30 at 7:30 PM. The new "Musical Mystery Screwball Comedy" by Patricia Miller and Jim Wann will boast a cast that includes Marc Kudisch, Christiane Noll, Ron Raines and Natalie Toro. Rob Milulski will be the musical director. (This same group will preserve the score for JAY Records.) The York Theatre Company plays Saint Peter's Theatre, which is located on 54th Street just east of Lexington Avenue. For tickets, priced $35-$40, visit www.yorktheatre.org or call (212) 935-5820.

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced its 2008-2009 season earlier this week. In addition to a new production of Ragtime, the season will also feature the return of Barbara Cook's Spotlight, the concert series curated by Tony Award-winning singer Cook. Cook will shine her spotlight on Tony winner Betty Buckley (who will offer concerts Oct. 3-4 in the Terrace Theater), Rebecca Luker (Nov. 8), Tony winner Victoria Clark (Dec. 6), Liz Callaway (Jan. 9, 2009) and Jason Danieley and Marin Mazzie (Feb. 14, 2009). Also of interest is Broadway: Three Generations, starry concerts in the Eisenhower Theater that pay tribute to all generations of theatre composers. Those concerts — directed by Eric Schaeffer and choreographed by Warren Carlyle — will include George and Ira Gershwin's Girl Crazy (celebrating Broadway's first generation of composers and featuring Max von Essen as Danny Churchill and Tony winner Randy Graff as Kate Fothergill); Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein's Fiddler on the Roof (celebrating Broadway's second generation of composers with Mark Jacoby as Tevye and Tony winner Graff as Golde); and Henry Krieger and Bill Russell's Side Show (celebrating Broadway's third generation; no casting has been announced). For more information visit www.kennedy-center.org.

Amanda Watkins and Michele Ragusa have been cast in the Paper Mill Playhouse's upcoming production of Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate. Watkins will play Lois Lane/Bianca with Ragusa as Lilli Vanessi/Kate. Kiss Me, Kate will play the Paper Mill April 16-May 18. James Brennan will direct the classic musical with choreography by Patti Colombo. The Paper Mill Playhouse is located on Brookside Drive in Millburn, NJ. For more information or to purchase tickets call (973) 376-4343 or visit www.papermill.org.

Jamie deRoy & Friends, the MAC Award-winning variety show, will be presented monthly at the Metropolitan Room beginning April 1. The 7:30 PM performance, hosted by deRoy, will feature the talents of singer-actress Nancy Anderson, violinist Heather Bixler, MAC Award winner Natalie Douglas, Broadway veteran Teri Ralston, stand-up comic Michael Somerville and the cast of Rendezvous…An Evening with Piaf, Brel, Aznavour & Friends. Barry Kleinbort will direct the evening with musical direction by Shelly Markham. DeRoy & Friends will also play the intimate cabaret May 14 and June 11. The Metropolitan Room is located in Manhattan at 34 West 22nd Street. There is a $25 cover charge and a $15 minimum; call (212) 206-0440 for reservations.

Tony Award winner Idina Menzel, who recently released her new solo recording "I Stand," will launch a limited concert tour April 1 at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, NJ. The singing actress, according to her official website, will also play April 3 at the Barrington Stage in Pittsfield, MA; April 5 at the Emelin Theatre in Mamaroneck, NY; April 6 and 8 at Stage One in Fairfield, CT; and April 10 and 11 at The Baby Grand in Wilmington, DE. More cities and dates will be announced shortly. For ticket information visit www.georgestplayhouse.org (April 1), www.barringtonstageco.org (April 3), www.emelin.org (April 5), www.fairfieldtheatre.org (April 6 and 8) and www.grandopera.org (April 10 and 11). For more information visit www.idinamenzel.com.

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

Laura Benanti, Patti LuPone and Boyd Gaines in <i>Gypsy</i>.
Laura Benanti, Patti LuPone and Boyd Gaines in Gypsy. Photo by Paul Kolnik
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