Who are the legendary stars whose careers have shown as brightly as Ethel Merman and Mary Martin, and are still going strong? Arguably Bernadette Peters, Betty Buckley and arriving in western Washington this week, Miss Patti LuPone, appearing in her one-woman theatrical concert Don’t Monkey With Broadway (a revamped version of her previous show Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda….Played That Part) at Edmonds Center for the Arts in Edmonds on Thursday April 21, 2016 and at Mount Baker Theatre in Bellingham on Saturday April 23, 2016.
Ms. LuPone is a NY Time best-selling author for Patti LuPone: A Memoir; won a Tony Award for her Broadway starring debut as Evita and then won the Tony, the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Actress in a Musical and the Drama League Award for Outstanding Performance of the Season for her performance as Madame Rose in the smash Arthur Laurents directed Broadway revival of Gypsy. Oh, and countless other shows, awards and nominations too numerous to recount here (her website is http://www.pattilupone.net). Oh, as well as coming into our living rooms for four seasons as the supportive mom, Libby, raising a family that included a son with Down’s Syndrome on ABC’s Life Goes On, and more recently in two different roles on Showtime’s brilliant Victorian England set monster mash-up Penny Dreadful in which she first guest starred as Joan Clayton (aka the Cut-Wife) in the sophomore season, and now is back for season 3 as a series regular, in a new role: Dr. Seward, an American therapist who treats Eva Green’s bewitching Vanessa Ives with an unconventional new approach. Talking to her the other night was exhilarating, and I was struck by how her graciousness and hearty laugh contrasted with her legendary toughness. Now, here she is boys! Heeeeeere’s Patti!!!
On coming to the PNW: “I did my show Matters of the Heart out there and GOD, it’s gorgeous country. We’re all looking forward to coming back, to Edmonds and Bellingham.”
On Don’t Monkey With Broadway: “It’s the same show as my earlier show Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda. Well, no it’s not. I mean some of the songs are the same, but a lot are different. But it’s kind of the same premise, but I find it a little more joyful . It’s more of my story, how I got involved in musical theatre. Essentially same show, different songs. Well a lot of them are different. You will be hearing me sing songs that you don’t necessarily associate with me. That’s what makes it fun for me. I hope it makes it more fun for the audience!”
On the fact that her close performing buddy/Evita co-star Mandy Patinkin is coming to Edmonds Center and Tacoma’s Pantages in June: “You’re kidding? Oh my god that’s so great! Hey, well maybe next year we’ll bring our duo show (An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin).
On Penny Dreadful (I fessed up that it is one of my top 5 favorites on-air now): Ain’t it great? The Cut-Wife, Joan, what a part! And now to be asked back in a new role that John Logan (the series creator/writer) wrote for me. SUCH a brilliant writer, who I had a relationship with after doing a pilot together from HBO. Working with Eva Green in the first role was quite extraordinary. What he had written for Eva and me was unbelievable; you don’t see that kind of writing on TV! It was hard work, very hard work, but I was deliriously happy to be there, working in Ireland, where I had never been, with this gifted Northern Irish director John Kirk. And then John Logan, talked with me a wee bit after, and he had devised a way to bring me back to work with Eva. I play a descendant of myself, a New Yorker. Basically I’m alive when the Cut Wife was alive, because she was 200 years old. I’m not aware of her because she is a distant relative, and I’m an American. We really don’t know that much about Beth Seward in the season that’s just about to air, but if we get picked up by Showtime more will be revealed. In some ways she’s an alienist because subconsciously she’s hooked up into other powers, you know psychological information, though she’s not aware of it at this point. Anyway, we’ll see what happens. All I know is I had a ball, a great time. I got to work with Eva, Harry Treadaway, Sam Barnett, Timothy Dalton, and a little bit with Josh Hartnett. I was in heaven. I never wanted to leave Ireland!”
On what goes on with her cast-mates from Life Goes On now: “I stay more in touch with Kellie Martin (Becca) but I’ve seen Chris Burke who played (her son) Corky. He is as he was. They are angels here on Earth. “ (Read her book to learn of her less than copacetic relationship with her TV spouse, the all but forgotten Bill Smitrovitch).
On approaching a role created by a legend or several: “I go to the script and whatever that dictates to me, and the director is the way I go. But of course I’m thinking of Ethel Merman and Angela Lansbury in roles that I have played. Somebody said ‘What did you think of Ethel in Anything Goes?’ And I say, I have NO idea! I wasn’t alive to see her, and there’s no footage of her performance. Why are they asking me that question? But I absolutely saw Angela (as Mrs. Lovett) and was absolutely gob-smacked by the whole production, how vivid. We’re all individual. When I did the concert film of Sweeney Todd, Lonny Price directed me one way but John Doyle had directed me another way for the stage. And (director/librettist) Arthur Laurents directed me in his own way on Gypsy. But, I don’t think about it in those terms. I’m just grateful for the part, and take it where it leads me.”
On Anyone Can Whistle (which she did in concert): “It’s a weird show. You only have 10 days to mount it in concert, you learn the script before you come in. I mean we had a great cast, but, I don’t know what they were thinking! Of course Stephen Sondheim’s songs are fantastic.
On The Baker’s Wife (Her pre-Evita flop musical by Stephen Schwartz that closed out of town): “Geneviève’s song ‘Meadowlark’ appeals to the women who sing it, to this day. It’s a story song..that takes endurance…and versatility. And it’s very romantic. It shows a lot of different colors for the singer, if they can pull it off. I don’t know why the show doesn’t work. With those beautiful songs, a story that’s surefire… It’s one of those mysteries as to why some shows work and some don’t. It’s crazy.”
Does she include any songs in Don’t Monkey With Broadway from her early career show The Robber Bridegroom now revived off-Broadway? : “I won’t tell you. You’ll be surprised!”
On her success as Madame Rose in Gypsy: “It was really all Arthur. Revisiting his book, and trusting his cast. Working with Laura Benanti as my Louise was very special…the whole show was. It’s a sign of a really well-written show that so many different actors can leave their imprint on it. And I loved doing the cut material on the cast album.”
Speed round! In a sentence Patti describes her experience with several key artists through her career.
Mandy Patinkin: “ I ADORE him.”
Laura Benanti: “ I adore her.”
Arthur Laurents: “Well, that was a complicated relationship that became just a lovefest. THANK GOD!”
Stephen Sondheim: “Complicated as well. A taskmaster who has taught me more about delivery of a song than anybody else.
Did she ever think as a child she’d work with the likes of Laurents, Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz, and “He Who Will Not Be Named” (but paid for a swimming pool at her house, and then some. READ her book): “No, I didn’t even think about playwrights, composers, and lyricists. I just wanted to sing songs.”
On shows/roles that really grabbed her as a kid: “I really wanted to be in Hair when I saw the original production. THAT spoke to me. It’s difficult to say because I don’t have a favorite anything. But roles that grabbed me? Ruth in Wonderful Town…Adelaide in Guys and Dolls.”
With her long and storied career thirty minutes was way too short a time to talk to this generous spirit. I told her that our community embraces her and that few seats remain for the Edmonds run. And when I told her I couldn’t wait to see her (“Have the road manager bring you backstage after!”) she said simply, and with a genuine and touching vulnerability “Oh I hope you enjoy it! I’m so glad this worked out. I’ll see you soon! ”
Reservations to see Patti in Don’t Monkey With Broadway at Edmonds Center for the Arts on April 21 can be made by going to http://www.edmondscenterforthearts.org and for Mount Baker Theatre in Bellingham at http://www.mountbakertheatre.com