The 2007 \"Sweeney Todd,\" with her tuba, Irene

Q&A: Patti LuPone

The Tony-winning star sings out about her career, Barbra and her upcoming Fort Worth appearance.

published Monday, March 28, 2011

From a humble beginning being dubbed “flannel mouth” by the esteemed John Houseman at Julliard, to being honored in February by the Drama League at their 27th All-Star Gala, Patti LuPone’s career has landed her squarely in the “Broadway icon” category. She’s performed Sondheim, Cole Porter and Lloyd Webber. She has more signature songs than most of her peers. LuPone’s credits extend beyond the stage to films, opera and television appearances, and last year, she added publishing to the list with her memoir.

Patti LuPone brings her iconic voice and equally iconic personality to Fort Worth April 5 to perform with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra for A Broadway Gala Featuring Patti LuPone at the Bass Performance Hall. Before she makes her way to Texas, where she hopes to at last see a “gen-u-wine” cowboy, LuPone took the time from taking care of her ailing Labrador to talk to TheaterJones about her career, the on-again-off-again remake of the Gypsy movie and how she feels about the term “diva.”


TheaterJones: First of all, how is your dog?

PL: Oh … well. She’s 13-and-a-half years old, you know, and she has a urinary tract infection. I knew something was really wrong. We had to get her to the vet, which is an hour away.


Tell us about your concert on April 5 with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. What can we expect?

It’s 24/7 showtunes.


On your website, it says that the show you’re doing is called Coulda Woulda Shoulda. What’s that about?

Coulda Woulda Shoulda played that part. It’s songs I wanted to sing from the very beginning of my career. Some of them are boy parts; some of them are songs I sang as a kid in school productions.


You’ve played so many roles in your career, which was your dream role realized?

So many of them: Rosamunde in The Robber Bridegroom, Evita, Fantine in Les Miz, Rose in Gypsy, Reno Sweeney [in Anything Goes]. The most difficult were Evita and Mrs. Lovett [in Sweeney Todd], and then the opera roles. The challenging ones are not always the most rewarding character, but they are the biggest challenge, and they stand out because of the work involved.


You have two Tony Awards, the first one in 1980 for Evita and the second, 20 years later …

Twenty-nine years later!


Ok, 29 years later for Gypsy. What did each of those Tonys mean to you at the time?

For Evita, it was an achievement. It was about conquering the part, the most challenging part I had played. If I hadn’t won, it would have been a failure. With Rose, I didn’t choose it, I was told that I would play that part. It had been only five years between revivals, so expectations were high. Both awards were “thank Gods.” Both were big reliefs. The thing is, it’s political, and we forget that. It’s a campaign, not an award on merit. I’ve heard producers say that the way the Tonys work is that first they vote for themselves, then against the competition, and then for who is deserving. I was equally relieved when I won both.


Which of your many signature songs could you sing forever?

All of my signature songs. People expect me to sing them, and I don’t want to let people down.


You’ve had the opportunity to perform Mrs. Lovett in two different Sweeney Todd stagings: One in concert with a 75-piece orchestra and John Doyle’s chamber piece. Which one was your favorite?

I loved them both, but performing it in concert, it’s hard to get lost in old London. With the John Doyle piece, it reeked of atmosphere and danger. We entered that world when we entered the stage. I’m the first one to suspend disbelief, but with the John Doyle staging, I really could immerse myself in the role. As an actress, that’s what you want, to be transported, to lose yourself. So, I preferred the John Doyle version.


In your memoir, you didn’t include anything about experiencing 9/11 or Noises Off, which was in rehearsal during that time. Why?

It just didn’t fit in. Yes, 9/11 happened when I was working on Noises Off, but when I wrote about it, it was just a few sentences, not big enough for a chapter. I mostly was appalled that our producers wanted us to continue rehearsing. To write the book, I was literally going through my scrapbooks, and no stories came out about that. There were some poignant moments, but not enough for a whole chapter.


You are often referred to as a “diva.” How do you feel about that term?

I don’t like it. It belongs in the opera world. It means the height of artistry, and some, like the beloved Maria Callas, developed a reputation, but I don’t like it. All of the battles I have fought on stage have been about the show, not myself. The term is reserved for high art, and I just don’t like it. Does it mean you’re brilliant or a pain in the ass? Plus, it’s overused now.


What do you do to escape?

I don’t need to. I wipe my feet at the door. I don’t take my personal life to the theater, and I don’t bring my professional life home. I sleep a lot, I guess. I’m just a regular person. I’m a wife and a mother. I keep a household. I cook, I do laundry, I clean. OK, so I don’t clean. But I prefer my life to be my life. I finish my work on the stage. I get to the theater two hours before, so I’m the first one there, and I am also the first one to leave after the show. I don’t forget to live my life. I’m as fond as my life as I am my job.


Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Guilty pleasures? What are guilty pleasures?


Well, my guilty pleasures are reading People magazine and watching the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills …

Well, I read People magazine, but that’s not a guilty pleasure, that’s keeping up on gossip! Wow…there are so many of them! Ha! I feel guilty about everything. I’m a Catholic, but I’ve given up the guilt.


Your memoir’s last chapter was about playing Rose in Gypsy, but that has not really been the end of the Patti LuPone story. What’s the next chapter?

I am at the age now where I’m often not the star. And I wonder what’s next, too. I have no idea. I like the surprise element.


Any thoughts on the Barbra Streisand Gypsy remake that’s off and on again?

Doesn’t that tell you it’s not going to happen? Arthur Laurents told me the three actresses he had in mind for the role, and of the three, Streisand was the best choice. I think she’s the best choice.


Do you think it will ever happen?

I hope it doesn’t─ha! Movie musicals aren’t done well anyway. There’s no time for applause for the numbers. They aren’t shot correctly─you need to see the dancing. If Streisand gave herself over to the part…singing “Rose’s Turn” is all about giving up control and discovering it every time. I think Streisand is very in control. She would be like, “I’m going to fart, and everyone’s going to hear it!”


One last question: Do you still pick up the tuba now and then?

Irene is missing! She went on two tours with Sweeney Todd, and she didn’t come back! I chose to play tuba to meet boys you know, at band camp.


Enjoy your visit to Texas!

I want to see a “gen-u-wine” cowboy. Every time I have been to Dallas, it’s been like Silicon Valley. There’s nothing Texas about it. I’ve heard of this place…Billy Bob’s?


Yes! Billy Bob’s is the world’s largest honky-tonk. That’s where you can see cowboys and two-steppin’, and they have a mechanical bull. You can also get some good Mexican food in the Stockyards.

Well, then that’s where I need to go.


If you happen to see a wandering tuba named Irene, you can return her to LuPone at Bass Hall on April 5. Unless, of course, she’s in the Stockyards stalking cowboys. Thanks For Reading


Stan writes:
Monday, March 28 at 2:57PM

Great interview, Cathy!

Monroc writes:
Wednesday, March 30 at 11:52AM

If it was Streisand's, I would stay and smell the fart!

Mike writes:
Wednesday, March 30 at 6:34PM

Streisand is way too old to play the part of Rose. What are they thinking?

William MacLellan writes:
Wednesday, March 30 at 7:18PM

What a great interview from a wonderful talent. I have had the privilege to see perform live in "Gypsy" on Broadway in Sept 2008 at the St James Theatre! Patti is incomparable ... love her :)

Alec Straitden writes:
Wednesday, March 30 at 9:36PM

Sounds like Miss Lupone is a jaded bitter pill. Too bad she couldn't have wished them the best in doing it. So often when the subject is Barbra people get ugly and that I am sure is due to jealousy. "Gypsyz' is not some sacred cow it's a musical. Everyone especially Mr. Laurents acts like he wrote the Bible. As for musicals not being made well that is a completely stupid thing to say or consider, a live show is a live show a film is a film. Best of luck to Barbra and she should also make Mame as well, it's just as good and she would be fantastic in it as I know she will be in Gypsy should we be so lucky to see that happen. As for Miss Lupone's fart comments it clearly shows she knows very little about Barbra. Barbra is all about the moment and truth and she still manages to give WHATEVER she sings the DEFINITIVE reading, both from a musical and theatrical stand point. Check out her versions of If I Loved You, Tomorrow, Somewhere, I Love You Porgy, Memory, He Touched Me, Starting Here Starting Now, Make The Man Love Me, On A Clear Day, You're The Top...the list of her show tunes renditions is second to NONE EVER. Streisand RULES!

MikesterSTLMO writes:
Wednesday, March 30 at 10:01PM

Sour grapes. She's pissed that SHE wasn't offered the part.

Dan writes:
Thursday, March 31 at 7:19AM

How under-estimated Streisand is after all these yeard. Sounds like bitter grapes to me and I bet Mr Lupone thinks her farts don't stink.

Tombra writes:
Thursday, March 31 at 3:46PM

Ms. Streisand would end up being the definitive Mama Rose. Kudos to her!

rena writes:
Thursday, March 31 at 4:21PM

Streisand doesn't have the vocal range anymore to play Rose. This is not said as any kind of knock against her, age and the lack of proper care of her voice has taken their toll. You can't expect to use your voice only every few years and expect to retain its integrity,

Vince writes:
Thursday, March 31 at 5:07PM

I concur 100% with Alec, and Barbra does not look her age and will be magnificent in the role. I can't wait!

Randy Porter writes:
Thursday, March 31 at 10:28PM

I agree with the previous poster: Barbra doesn't have the voice anymore to do Gypsy. Age and the fact that she doesn't work on her voice have taken their toll. Ever since her 2006 tour, it sounds like singing is difficult for her, and that is definitely not the Barbra we know and love. I think she should bow out of singing now, because Barbra has always been beyond incredible, and when she becomes just ordinary, it's not the same.

Davyd writes:
Thursday, March 31 at 12:45AM

Cathy, wonderful interview. Davyd W.

Tom Danna writes:
Friday, April 1 at 4:05PM

I agree with Rena. Barbra doesn't have the chops for "Gypsy" anymore. It's a fact not a put-down and I consider myself a longtime fan. I'm sure if it's gonna get made Streisand's name will be on it because she's such an icon. And I don't think Patti LuPone sounds sour grapes. In fact she sounds completely honest and forthright about the whole thing. Remember she's a stage actress and she's got the Tony Awards to prove it. I respect her.

Max Minton writes:
Tuesday, April 5 at 1:18PM

Barbra doesn't have "the chops"? Tom, this is Movieland, where CZ Jones has "the chops" for "Chicago." Streisand's got everything a competent director needs to build a spectacular film and a brilliant performance. Sondheim's fear is that Streisand will define the role the way she did Fanny Brice, and the semi-annual revivals of "Gypsy" will dry up. Seen any revivals of "Funny Girl" lately? Sure Barbra's the wrong age. But who's the right age? Jennifer Aniston? Oh, there wouldn't be lights bright enough! There wouldn't be signs big enough!

Jackson Williams writes:
Tuesday, April 5 at 3:31PM

A commenter named Alec Straitden writes this of Lupone's observation on movie musicals: "As for musicals not being made well that is a completely stupid thing to say or consider."

Lupone was merely noting that most movie musicals fall way short of their live, onstage counterparts. And that is generally true, although there are exceptions. It isn't stupid to say so, and it certainly isn't stupid to "consider."

Jonathan Bateman writes:
Friday, May 6 at 7:57PM

I was lucky enough to see Patti in concert and got to talk to her after the show. It was like talking to the girl next door. She signed autographs and didn't rush anyone and was genuinely interested in what her fans had to say. I will never forget it. Many celebrities can't be bothered and forget who buys their CDs. Not Patti! As for her comment about movie musicals, I agree most have not been done that well. There are exceptions: "Chicago" "West Side Story" "My Fair Lady," to name a few. And there have been some disasters,too. I wish Patti could have done a made for TV movie of "Mame." I wrote to her about that. I love Barbra Streisand but I'm not sure if she would be a good choice for "Gypsy." My favorite Mama Rose, besides Patti is Angela Lansbury. Tyne Daly did a good job too. I'm sure there will be many more in the future. "Gypsy" is a great show!

Joan writes:
Sunday, February 3 at 11:16AM

No one can come close to Barbra Streisand! Sorry, Ms Lupone, not even you!!!!!!!

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Q&A: Patti LuPone
The Tony-winning star sings out about her career, Barbra and her upcoming Fort Worth appearance.
by Cathy O'Neal

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