April 21, 1949– Patti LuPone:
“I have been incredibly fortunate over the course of my career to have been associated with some extraordinary dramatic and musical productions, and also some rather spectacular disasters. Looking back, I can find gifts and life lessons in every one.”
How gay is my Broadway? Well, not even counting long-running hits, or even last night’s official opening of the gayest event of all time, Bette Midler starring in Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly! with David Hyde Pierce and Gavin Creel, we still can choose between Present Laughter, gay sophisticate Noël Coward’s comedy about one of funniest monsters of the modern theater, played by Kevin Kline; The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams; Lynn Ahrens, does the lyrics and gay composer Stephen Flaherty provides the music for gay playwright Terrence McNally’s Anastasia; Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Gay Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogle’s new play Indecent; gay actor Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney trade roles every-other performance in Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes, gay hero George Takei stars in a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures; and a new production of Six Degrees Of Separation featuring out actor John Benjamin Hickey.
Off-Broadway offerings are rich also: Michael McKeever’s Daniel’s Husband asks questions about same-sex marriage; Harvey Fierstein plays an older gay man who finds romance with a younger guy in Martin Sherman’s Gently Down The Stream; and in Joshua Harmon’s comedy Significant Other a perfectly charming gay guy is always the bridesmaid and never the bride.
One that really has my attention is from the creative team who brought us the musical version of Grey Gardens. It’s titled War Paint, and the musical follows the decades-long rivalry between cosmetics company creators Elizabeth Arden, played by the delicious Christine Ebersole and Patti LuPone as Helena Rubinstein. Between the two pioneers, they defined beauty standards for the first half of the 20th Century.
Patti LuPone is one of my very favorite of the Great Broadway Divas of my own age. She received a 2008 Tony Award for for a revival of Gypsy. She also won the Tony for her fierce take on the title role of the original production of Evita in 1980. Her other Broadway credits include: Anything Goes (1987), Oliver! (1984), Working (1978), The Master Class (1995), Pal Joey (1995), Noises Off (2001) and Company (1993). She was also seen on Broadway as Mrs. Lovett in the 2009 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, where she played the tuba. In 2011, she was Tony nominated for the musical Women On The Verge. Plus, she did Sunset Boulevard and Les Miserables in London.
LuPone has rarely seen her name above the title for a film or the opening credits on a television show, but when it comes to the stage, there are only a very few performers who rival her resume. LuPone:
“I’m not a movie actress… I think I’m a hard sell in the movies.”
A graduate of The Julliard School (she was in the first class of the Actor’s Program) has had her greatest success in Musical Theatre. She possesses a triumphant trumpet of a singing voice, but it is her acting chops that have transformed songs like Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, I Get A Kick Out Of You, and Rose’s Turn into her triumphs.
LuPone is closely identified with the songs of Sondheim, which she performs in concert. In regional theatre, she has played much of the Sondheim repertoire: Gypsy, Passion, Company, Sunday In The Park With George, Anyone Can Whistle and Sweeney Todd. Only two have eluded her. LuPone:
“I wanted to play Desiree in A Little Night Music. I contacted Trevor Nunn, who didn’t contact me back. Really, the last Sondheim role for me is the Witch in Into The Woods, which I was originally offered! After it left San Diego they offered it to me; I said I would like to play Cinderella, so I came in and auditioned for that. Then they said, ‘We still want you to play the Witch.’ Then the negotiations fell apart.”
At the second to last performance of Gypsy in 2009, she famously became agitated at a man taking pictures with the use of flash. LuPone stopped in the middle of her big number, Rose’s Turn and loudly demanded that he be removed from the theatre. LuPone yelled from the stage:
“You heard the announcement at the beginning; you heard the announcement at intermission! Who do you think you are?”
After he was removed, LuPone restarted her number. The audience applauded. You should watch the YouTube video of the event. She deserves a special Tony for that performance.
I admire that LuPone is not afraid to jump around to different genres, to play Off-Broadway and work in different theatres around the country. She accepts the best leading roles for women, but also takes on supporting roles. On television she has guest-starred on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, American Horror Story: Coven, Law & Order: SVU, Glee, 30 Rock. She played a whacked-out version of Patti LuPone on Girls, and she was just crazy good in two different roles on Penny Dreadful.
In 2011, I read her very candid auto biography, Patti LuPone: A Memoir. I was laughing out loud at the audacity of the very raw openness about her life and her relationship with co-workers. That emotional readiness has made her a top Broadway Diva and a certain Gay Icon.
In that memoir LuPone riffs and rants. She is merciless and lacerating. This is a woman who does not suffer fools gladly. She is also tough on herself, recounting a story about nearly missing her entrance as the ghost of Fantine in the second act of Les Miz after falling asleep in her dressing room. LuPone claims that she hadn’t bothered to read the script beyond her own scenes and that right before the near disaster of missing her cue, she looked up to notice for the first time that she shared the stage with another actor during her reprise of her big song I Dreamed A Dream.
I am a Broadway Baby and I love her.
LuPone lives in NYC and South Carolina, with her husband, Matthew Johnston. They met on the set of the television film LBJ: The Early Years (1987) in which she played Lady Bird to perfection. They have a son and a bunch of dogs.