Patti LuPone Is Anxious and Emotional About Broadway’s Return
In our September issue, we assembled a portfolio of five legendary Grand Dames of Broadway who define elegance, drama, humor, and grace, and who our guest-editor Jeremy O. Harris called “the foundation of New York’s theatrical heartbeat.” In the first of five, the actor and singer Patti LuPone speaks to her Company director Marianne Elliott about Broadway’s comeback, her wild days at Julliard, and why “actor” is a dirty word.
SIGNATURE ROLES: Mama Rose in Gypsy, Eva Peron in Evita
BROADWAY DEBUT: Three Sisters, 1973
TONY AWARDS: 2
YOUTUBE IT: “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”
INTERVIEWED BY: Tony Award-winning director Marianne Elliott
PATTI LUPONE: Hi!
MARIANNE ELLIOTT: Hi, Patti. Are you in England?
LUPONE: Yes, we leave tomorrow.
ELLIOTT: You’re going back to film aren’t you?
LUPONE: Yeah, with Joaquin Phoenix [for the upcoming Disappointment Blvd.]. We have to be in Montreal at the end of July. It is the wackiest thing. This is the director’s third film. His name is Ari Aster and he did Midsommar and Hereditary. It’s a psychological horror. He’s so out there.
ELLIOTT: In a good way?
LUPONE: Oh, fantastic. I can’t even describe it. So I’m excited about that.
ELLIOTT: How have the last 16 months impacted you? Since we finished [Company] on March 12, how has the emotional roller-coaster been for you, Patti?
LUPONE: The same as it has been for you, Marianne. The big question was the unknown. I was fine, and then I went into really dark places in my life. Then I was fine again. I found geographical escape was the thing that kept my head above water. I visited a friend in Maine. I went out to California. We went to Big Sur and out to Los Angeles on election night. L.A. was the epicenter of the virus at that point. Then the question became: Do you waste your life bemoaning your fate? Or do you look for the silver lining? The silver lining was our families. Our little bubble was a family bubble. We got to know each other again. But I’m really concerned about Broadway going back, because I’m not sure that if they open up New York City, those that are unvaccinated aren’t going to fuck it up for the rest of us. How are they going to control audiences? What are they going to do to make all of us safe? Have you been told anything?
ELLIOTT: No, but I imagine you’ll have to have some sort of proof of vaccination. Nobody wants to have a vaccine passport because they say it’s very divisive, but I think that must be the way of the future, because that’s the only way we can absolutely protect everybody. I should imagine we’re going to have to wear masks as well. People in New York aren’t wearing masks anymore, are they?
LUPONE: No, New York and L.A. are open.
ELLIOTT: How do you feel about doing live shows again in Company?
LUPONE: I have mixed feelings about it. We’re going to be fine in rehearsal, I just worry about the masses. For no other reason than I don’t want to get sick. I think COVID would kill me. But I’m actually looking forward to starting all over again, except for “Side by Side.
ELLIOTT: Oh my god. All that choreography. You’ve only got four weeks to rehearse it this time.
LUPONE: If Liam [Steel, Company’s choreographer] changes one thing in “Side by Side,” I’m taking out a contract on his life. He’ll be in New York, so it’ll be easy.
ELLIOTT: It will be very emotional doing your first show.
LUPONE: It’s going to be emotionally explosive, and I think it’s going to be about three-and-a-half hours long. They’re not going to let us off the stage. I could cry right now.
ELLIOTT: I’m worried about the first day of rehearsal. I’m not sure if I’m going to get through it dry-eyed and looking like I’m a director who knows what they’re doing and totally in charge of everything. I might be dripping wet.
LUPONE: I hear you.
ELLIOTT: What are the differences, if any, between New York and London audiences?
LUPONE: None. If you have a product that reaches an audience, they are the same person. When we were doing Company in London, I asked cast members, “Is this an American audience or a London audience?” because the London audience was responding as vocally and as enthusiastically as an American audience.
ELLIOTT: You’re so right. I remember that first preview in London so clearly, because none of us knew whether it would work, or whether people would understand what we were trying to do or even whether they wanted to see Company at all in any way, let alone in this way. Then, in the second half, the show was stopped because of a standing ovation. There’s no way I would stand at my own show because I’m writing notes and trying to make it better, but I had no choice because the energy pushed me up. Everybody was standing. It was incredible.
LUPONE: If I sound ambivalent about anything, especially coming back to Company, it’s because I’m trying to control myself. It’s so fucking loaded. It isn’t just about doing a show on Broadway, it’s everything we’ve gone through and what’s at stake.
ELLIOTT: It’s about the whole art form and all the people that have worked within this industry and given up their lives to be part of this industry that we’ve been so worried about. The fact that we might be coming back with Company feels metaphorical to everything that we’ve thrown our lives into.
LUPONE: I’ve said this forever, that in America “actor” is a dirty word. I have been treated like a third-class citizen my entire life because my occupation says “actor.” In the first two COVID relief packages we weren’t even considered. Then you think about the people that have been put out of business and are bankrupt who are artisans. It’s heartbreaking to me to think that we’re going to come back to such a decimated community.
ELLIOTT: You love it so much and I love that about you. So I’ve got a really good question here from Georgia. She said, “If you could have a ticket to see any show from any era with any star, dead or alive, what would you want a ticket for?”
LUPONE: Anything Marianne Elliott directed. If it was anything else, can I go back to see some of the productions that I’ve seen, or does it have to be brand new?
LUPONE: Well I would see Peter Brook’s productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Marat/Sade again.
LUPONE: The thing I love about theater is that you readily suspend your disbelief. You walk into a theater ready to leave reality. I was swept away by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Marat/Sade was so original and innovative. Those were ones that deeply affected me when I was a kid.
ELLIOTT: I’ll come with you to see Midsummer. I would go back and see The Deep Blue Sea starring Penelope Wilton. It was directed by Carol Rice, who was a film director at the time. Absolutely sublime acting. That’s what I’ve missed about having no theater this year: seeing the craft live in front of you and watching people who know what they’re doing.
LUPONE: You know what else I would go back to? I would go back to theater from the Eastern Bloc during the Communist period. Back in the early ’60s, we had experimental theater in America; I mean real experimental theater. Not anymore. It was off-off-Broadway. It was in dilapidated storefronts because the East Village was a Ukrainian neighborhood. If you’re politically oppressed, your theater is going to be electric.
ELLIOTT: That’s the thing about theater: It should have the ambition to change the world. A lot of theater doesn’t do that but a lot of it does. What haven’t you done yet that you’re waiting to get the call to do?
LUPONE: Pole dancing? A stripper in stilettos.
ELLIOTT: I can see you pole dancing. You’ve got an incredible figure.
LUPONE: I would be the clown. No, I’m teasing. I don’t know. Years ago I was always depressed if I lost a role, and I lost a lot of them. I wasn’t seen for them, or didn’t get the part, and I would just get de- pressed. At some point in my career I turned around and thought, “You know what? The thing that’s exciting about my career is the element of surprise.” I don’t go after roles anymore because I don’t want to get de- pressed. I just let it unfold. What happens is so much more interesting than what I think I should do.
ELLIOTT: Yeah, absolutely.
LUPONE: Listen, you were a surprise
after I saw War Horse at Lincoln Center, and then I said, “Who are these directors?” I saw your name and said, “A woman!” Then I saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in London and said, “It’s the same woman!” I put it out in the universe and said, “I have to work with her.” You know the story. I gave up musicals, and then you called.
ELLIOTT: I remember going for a drink with you and thinking, “I’mdesperatetoworkwithher.”Do you remember we got very, very drunk at Bar Centrale?
LUPONE: We did.
ELLIOTT: Then you said no to the part, and I was like, “You can’t say no. This is perfect for you.”
LUPONE: And I did. The truth of the matter is, after I said no, I thought, “If I don’t say yes to Marianne she will never ask me to work with her again.” I just want to finish my career with you. That’s why I said yes. That’s the truth.
ELLIOTT: I’ve got one more question for you. You’re stepping into your first day at Juilliard. What would you tell young Patti?
LUPONE: Well, I don’t know how downtown Interview is anymore, but on the first day of Juilliard I was crashing on amphetamines. I realized it and I went, “Oh my god, it’s my first day of Juilliard!” So I took what we called Black Beauties and said, “I have to clean my closet.” My roommate and I pulled out all our clothes and in the morning, having been up all night long, they were still on the floor. So I went to Juilliard with a hat pulled down over my eyes because I hadn’t slept all night. I would tell young Patti, “Be more serious. Don’t be such a fuck-up. Study harder. Respect your craft.”
ELLIOTT: I would say that older Patti is definitely respectful of the craft, works incredibly hard, and is very serious about it. So you learned that somewhere along the line.
LUPONE: It must have been Juilliard. I couldn’t wait for that day to be over with.
Hair by Patrick Melville for Goldwell Professional
Makeup: Angelina Avaollen using MAC Cosmetics
Patti Lupone Stylist: Ryan Young at The Wall Group
Photo Assistant: Roy Beeson Jr.
Styling Assistant: Kiana Polk
Special Thanks: The Town Hall