Ep200 – Patti LuPone: Broadway Royalty

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Alan Seales: Hey everyone. Congratulations. We all made it to the 200th episode of the theatre podcast. Can you believe this? Whether this is your first episode or your 200th, truly thank you for listening. This podcast would still not be here 200 episodes later without your support. It started out and still is a massive labor of love.

And on my side real quick, I want to acknowledge that the podcast probably wouldn't have gotten started without the help of original producer, Jillian Hochman, my wonderful friend and tech guru, Matthew Hendershot, and my number one listener, and also amazingly wonderful friend to Byron Jennings who never fails to text me his always honest thoughts about the latest episode.

And this episode 200 is an episode, of course, for the history books to celebrate this milestone we have none other than Broadway royalty, Patti LuPone. I feel like it came out of the interview kind of transformed. Not being able to have an extended chat with her before this interview, I knew very little about her, uh, on a personal level other than what was reported online.

And what I learned very quickly is that she's just as sensitive and amazingly honest as the rest of us in this business. And she truly cares about performing as an art and she gets so emotionally invested in the audience. That's why she cares so much about people texting and people getting, uh, being distracted.

It's the way she talks about it is just heartwarming. And she's just [a] truly wonderful woman. I hope you can learn a thing or two about Patti after listening to this episode as well. I have monologued long enough so here we go. Without further ado, everyone, please enjoy this episode with Patti LuPone.

1, 2, 3.

All right everyone strap yourselves in. Combined across the Emmys, Grammy, Olivier and Tony awards, she has 14 nominations resulting in six wins. You've of course seen her on stage in one of her 27 Broadway credits, but she also has a long and illustrious career across TV and film with credits, including some of my favorites Driving Miss Daisy, Frazier, Will and Grace, Ugly Betty, 30 Rock, Glee, American Horror Story, Ben Penny Dreadful, and of course, Life Goes On. She's a voiceover artist, a cabaret performer, a mom, and performs regularly with the New York Philharmonic, all of which mean you can find her singing across 22 albums. She can now be seen on Broadway in the revival of Company.

And, side note trivia, was the first American to ever win an Olivier award. And she has been inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame, Patti LuPone. Oh my God. Welcome to the 200th episode of The Theatre Podcast.

Patti LuPone: Well, congratulations to you. I can't believe I—can you send me that list.

Alan Seales: Sure!

Patti LuPone: I had no idea.

Alan Seales: You, you didn't know, like I was going to ask about this actually, just to kick this off because as somebody who is constantly, uh, speaking for myself as somebody who is constantly trying to move forward, look forward, become better. I have to constantly remind myself to turn around and look and what I've come from, what, um, kind of what's behind me. And, I mean, you've got like, I assume a shelf of all these awards. And do you count them? Do you like, how do you keep track of what you've done?

Patti LuPone: Uh I was actually surprised to hear what I've done. I mean, I know that I've done a lot because I've been in the business for such a long time, but that's impressive.

Alan Seales: Right. It's really impressive. And I wonder, um, you know, being in the business for as long as you have, and you were one of the, uh, you were one of the 36 original young actors chosen for the very first class of Julliard School of drama, their drama division, right? So like, you've been sort of at the forefront of this huge theatre transformation from the very beginning. So looking back of course, where you are now, and we ran it off, lots of awards but I wonder, like people say, you know, the joke we do it for the awards, but people don't really do it for the awards because ironically with all these awards, it was what, 28 years between your two Tony wins, right?

Patti LuPone: Hmm, yeah.

Alan Seales: So like if you judge it on Tony wins, okay, most people never get a Tony win. But when you look back at all of this, at this career that you've put forth, did you ever think starting out that you would be where you are now? And I guess where do you think you are now? That's a perception question.

Patti LuPone: Yeah. That's the question? Um, I think success in this business as longevity, um, it's not awards, it's longevity, and if you can continue to be hired, I suppose, after all this time, I've been an equity member for 50 years and I'm shocked at that. And when I graduated from Julliard, John Houseman handed my class an equity card in a seat on a bus and we went out on the road and that was 1972. And I was figuring it out, uh, this year. And I went, holy God, 50 years in equity.

Alan Seales: Did they send you a pen or a watch?

Patti LuPone: Oh no they just want more money. That's my problem with equity these days, you know, when we trained at school and went into Julliard, um, thinking that I would end up on the Broadway musical stage. As I studied at school and believe me I was not the best student. I was one of the worst students because—

Alan Seales: Really.

Patti LuPone: It was a seven days baby and there was partying to have, you know, partying to happen. Um, no, really, it was New York in the seventies, which was a dangerous and very creative and fun time. And there were better things to do than 13 hours a day in Julliard. And I really wasn't a very good student at school and I wish that's one thing—is one grip regret. I wish I was a better student in the technical department because basically, that's all we had at Julliard. We did not have acting teachers until maybe our third year. I mean, they called them acting teachers, but it was so varied and confusing, but the technique, the technical department was so strong in voice and movement and speech. And that was where they lost me. Let me tell you one story about Edith Skinner, who was infamous and very famous and infamous. And she was our speech teacher and she had introduced us to the diphthongs. This is my first year of Julliard and we were at international house because the original Julliard school of music was too small to house the drama division. So all of the 36 actors plus our teachers were housed in international house and we would, you know, take classes in hallways and the, I don't know what you'd call it. It was a stage, but anyway, we were in some room that looked like a library—

Alan Seales: Collection of risers

Patti LuPone: No, but there was a stage. It was interesting. There was a stage we would rehearse on the floor, but there was this stage, but so this class was in what looked like a library. Uh, there were no books, but it was just an open room that could have been a library. And she had introduced us to the diphthongs. And after we had met the last diphthong, she sailed over to the windows and drew back the curtain and said, well, we are out of the forest. We are sailing on the Hudson river, sis, boom bah. I'm in school with a bunch of nuts. So the technical department was sort of, kind of tolerated it and I should have actually listened more closely, but 50 years doing what I do is an achievement whether there's an award or not it's like, oh my God, I've been on stage. I've been doing what I knew I would do at for years old for 50 years, a professional for 50 years. That's an accomplishment.

Alan Seales: To still be doing it, to still be enjoying it. So at four years old, how did you know that this is what you wanted to do?

Patti LuPone: I fell in love with the audience. Um, it was just something that I can see this moment as if it was yesterday. Um, I was tap dancing downstage, right? And I thought everybody in the audience was looking at me. Meantime, there was a whole line of kids. They were all looking at me and there was something magical about an audience. And of course, I knew they were our parents, but there was something magical about seeing the joy on their faces. And I thought, okay, this is a really safe place to be. And this is a fun place to be. If I can look out and see people smiling, why not?

Alan Seales: I love that, that it was the audience that felt that, that got you to fall in love with theatre, because there's so much of that that other people, um, maybe they don't consciously realize that's what it is, but it's, uh, people ask me, um, what did I miss when COVID was shut down, what am I looking forward to the most uh, when theatre comes back and for me as an audience member, it's going on this shared journey with a room full of strangers and feeling emotion that I don't normally get to feel. It's peeling back the layers and exploring more of myself. And I feel like on the flip side, right when you're standing on stage the chemically serotonin, dopamine, whatever's going on, released in your brain that makes you feel so happy to be able to guide this room of strangers on this journey, for you to recognize that at four years old, I think, is absolutely incredible.

Patti LuPone: I was a precocious kid getting in trouble a lot, but I did realize that very early on. I did. My mother used to troop me out when we had guests to do my Marilyn Monroe imitation. Go figure how I even knew who Marilyn Monroe was at three years old, but I did. And I would do, you know, they thought that was really cute. And there's actually my mother and my father were not—my mother couldn't sing. My dad was a principal. He was an educator and my mother was a housewife. Um, there was no show business link in my immediate family, but there was, um, showboating, I suppose, I guess you could call it showboating and my mother would troop me out and I would do this Marilyn Monroe imitation where I would drop a shirt off my shoulder and expose my shoulder and then I would do something with my lips. And that was my Marilyn Monroe imitation. Yeah, it was pretty crazy.

Alan Seales: I love that though. Uh, you are, if I'm remembering correctly, grew up on the north shore of Long Island and come from a big, uh, an Italian family, is it a big family?

Patti LuPone: Yes. It was a big family until my mother and father got divorced and then it was a very acrimonious divorce. And then my mom sort of forbade us to see the LuPone side of the family, which is, you know, uh, she was a woman scorned and it was unnecessary, but I don't see any of my, uh, LuPone relatives. And there's very few Patty relatives so it's, you know, it's—without a family actually.

Alan Seales: Well, that's what I was asking if it was a big family, because like a lot of kids who sort of get lost in the shuffle of a big family find a home on stage because of the audience looking and the audience attention that they're getting. So I wondered if that had anything to do with you falling into the path that you ultimately chose right.

Patti LuPone: No, it chose me, it chose me and the family, when the LuPones and the Pattis got together were loud. Um, but that nobody got lost. I don't think, I mean, the kids who were relegated to the kids' table and the kids went off and did their own thing when the adults were drinking and doing their thing, but no at four years old, it chose me and I recognize that.

Alan Seales: You said your mother was a woman scorned. That reminds me just of mama Rose. Of course, Gypsy is your second Tony and one of the roles that you're known for the most, and I've heard, um, bits and pieces of this story over the years, but like, you did not want to play mama Rose at all, right? Like that was another thing where the role came to you over and over again.

Patti LuPone: Yeah. I didn't understand it. I did it. I did it in high school. We had this, um, when I was going to school, I think it's kind of still true. Um, well let me start from the beginning. We had a very strong music department from elementary school through high school. I, um, and the third grade we were marched into the Ocean Avenue Elementary School and there were two posters, uh, on tripods, um, on the stage. I mean, they were huge. And the third grade was told to choose an instrument because it was an integral part of our education. And so I wanted to play the harp, but we had no harp and Kathy McCusker who was across the aisle from me said, cello. So I picked the cello, but we started to learn how to read music and play an instrument in the third grade which was, yeah, it was incredible. That music influence, um, continued to high school, um, with really astonishing teachers. And that was my, pretty much my thrust, my focus and my desire from elementary school through high school was the music department. So there were a bunch of kids that just gravitated to the music department in junior high and high school. We were not the popular kids. We were not the sports crowd. Uh, the cheerleaders, I actually was a cheerleader and got thrown off the cheerleading squad, but I was a cheerleader. I mean, yeah, somebody—

Alan Seales: You didn't do anything?

Patti LuPone: Yeah. I was smoking in the bathroom and the cheerleaders caught me and told the English teacher and office. I was kind of a, I was very rebellious in school but those kids that, um, gravitated and were passionate about music when the school year was over, three of them continued this desire and formed the patio players and would put on great big Broadway musicals on Kathy Sheldon's patio. I joined them. And one of the musicals we did was Gypsy. And I played Louise, and I remember Kathy Sheldon and the dressing room scene in the second act. And she's yelling at me and I'm going, what the hell is she talking about? I mean, I really didn't understand it because I didn't understand the play. It was complicated. It was something that was my little pea brain couldn't compute. And I remember looking at Kathy going, oh, I hate this woman. So madam Rose was not, well, do you want to play Ado Annie? And you don't think about madam Rose, I wanted to play the second bananas because they were the ones that got the laugh and they were the better parts. So you don't think about madame rose if Ado Annie is your desire. Um, but a lot of people said to me, you should play madame Rose. And there's a long story about Arthur and me. Arthur offered me a play. Uh, Jolson Sings Again. I had just come back from Sunset Boulevard and was just so emotionally eviscerated and Robert Fox and I think Scott Ruden came up to my house to try to convince me to do this play. I read it. And I said, oh my God, everybody's just yelling at each other. And it was Arthur's take on, uh, Jerome Robbins, uh, singing to the House Un-American Activities Committee. And I thought, no, this is not—I just need to heal so I turned it down. [...] was directing and it was going to Seattle rap. And I just went, I can't do this. It showed up again and I turned it down and I was shooting a film. I was shooting David Mamet's Heist in Montreal, and I got a telephone call from Arthur who just proceeded to do what he was famous for. I was speechless. I was destroyed, emotionally destroyed and hung up. I was crying. I hung up the phone and I went, what was that? Because I turned it down he said I sunk his play, blah, blah, blah. And then I found out that I was banned from his work. I said, oh why do these things happen to me? Just because I turned down a play. And then when Wells coffin of the Virginia festival wants to do Gypsy, I said, you're not going to be able to get the rights because I'm banned from Arthur's work. He said, you're banned from first-class productions, but not concerts. And I went, oh, okay. And so I did it with India and there was enough buzz around it that, um, we then—there was talking about bringing it to Broadway. And I had to make the phone call to Arthur when I was doing Sweeney and something had shifted in him and we proceeded. And then when I played it, I understood why people thought I should. It is a monster part. I mean, I remember when Boyd and I would come on stage and the first 20 minutes after the grounds, they were saying the same exhausted and breathless. And I thought I'm not gonna make it. I'm not gonna make it. I'm not gonna make it. I mean, it's the energy that is required. It's not even the singing. It's the physical energy that is required to play that role. It's intense, but I got it. I got it. It offers the actor playing it every possible emotional feeling for lack of a better word. I mean, I will play it again if somebody asks me. I would play that again.

Alan Seales: We're going to take a short break, stay tuned for more of the episode.

Alan Seales: So that was Tony number two. And Tony number one was Evita and both of those, not comedic roles, but it sounds like you want, like, in your career, in your life, are you more drawn to the comedic? Like you said, you wanted to play second banana, but now looking back, it seems to me like everybody wants you for this powerhouse voice and with a little bit of comedy on the side versus the other way around, or how do you feel from your perspective?

Patti LuPone: I'd like to know. My friend Jeff Richmond asked me how come you always get, well, how come you're always cast as first lady? And I went, yeah, I don't know. None of those roles were roles I desired. None of those roles I went after. Um, I don't know. I think, um, they must be my capacity. I do tend to want to make people laugh, but I'm also a melancholy baby. I'm the glass half empty as opposed to the glass half full. Always. My entire life I've been the melancholy baby. And so, and in school, I was cast in those roles, in tragic roles, uh, as well as the comedic roles. But, so I was lucky that all of that was developed at school. But I will squeeze a laugh out of anything. I remember being, you know, patting myself on the back when I was able to squeeze a laugh out of the first act of Evita. Oh my God, these people hate me. I got to make them laugh. I got to figure out how to make them laugh. And I did in that wheel, you will. And I would come on stage going yes, I made them laugh.

There's something about laughter that is a release for an audience. And it just brings so much joy in a building. I remember leaving with the audience. They had no idea who I was. If I was commuting up to Connecticut and driving myself when I did Anything Goes and I would leave with the audience, I never took off my makeup, just got out of the red wig, threw on clothes and went with the audience down into the Lincoln Center parking lot. And I would listen to the audience and I would listen to them. We tell that old Chestnut and laugh all over again. And every time we heard laughter during Anything Goes, it just filled my heart. You know, there's just something about that release. We can all cry these days at the drop of a hat about everything that's going on, but to hear laughter these days. Oh my God. I could cry. Just hearing the laughter.

Alan Seales: Yeah. There's always something wrong. And I wonder you would just say growing up, you're always the glass half empty person. I wonder if that's how or why you're more attracted to the comedy and why you love comedy more because it internalize it. Internally for you. It's lifting you up, it's moving you forward, right?

Patti LuPone: Yes. I think you're absolutely right. And I have black humor. There is nothing off-limits.

Alan Seales: Well, do you, um, I guess like, you've sort of got this, uh, I guess for people who don't really know you and even in like the short time, you and I have just been talking right now like you're a very sensitive person. You're a very real person. And I think you're very, you're incredibly wonderful. And people love to talk about, um, the, like, look at, she grabbed a phone, she's talking about the audience she's doing. Like, I understand why you get upset with the audience because I was at American Utopia last night and someone next to me had their phone out, and I almost smacked it out of their hand. And something you said at the very beginning of why at four years old, you wanted to get in the theatre was because of the audience. You fell in love with the audience.

And now when the audience starts to detach, I understand why that frustrates you so much. But my question through all of this is, I guess, um, do you just not—do you say what's on your mind, do you care about having a filter or is it just I have to say what's inside. I have to get inside out so that I feel good about myself. If it's good, if it's bad. And just like people like talking about comedy versus crying, people will, the news will hold on to someone doing something controversial versus the everyday niceties somebody is.

Patti LuPone: Well, right. I, you know, I just, I wish I didn't have a filter sometimes because I really to blabber on, it's just, I don't know. I'm an emotional creature. I wish I had developed a filter. I wish I had more—I wish my thoughts were more organized in my head so that when I did say something, the impact had a different effect. Sometimes it's just the, you know, the Italian blast. It's just an emotional reaction. It really is. It's an emotional reaction and I do care what people think. And I do, like I said, I do wish that I was able to express myself in a way that had a better impact because I think sometimes I do myself damage by just allowing the Italianism to fly out of my mouth. But you know what, there's nothing I can do now. It's who I am

Alan Seales: Well, it's been out there. Everything's been out there. Everything about you has been out there for so long and people love talking about it. And I, well, I guess, okay, so before I get into what I want to get into, um, with so many people now, you've been in this business for 50 or been part of equity for 50 years. Been doing this for so long. So many words like everybody wants to the, I guess the status you have achieved, everybody wants to be your friend. Everybody wants to know you. So how do you choose the people? How do you know when people are being authentic and how do you know, or how do you choose to spend your time with people that you know are real? How do you know that they are real and not just trying to, you know, be next to what they perceive as stardom?

Patti LuPone: Well, first of all, everybody doesn't want to know me and doesn't want to be my friend.

Alan Seales: Really.

Patti LuPone: Yeah, absolutely. Um, no. Um, as a matter of fact, someone came to the show the other night and I know this person and, um, they didn't bother to get in touch with me that they were coming or I haven't heard from them since. So, and I thought, okay, you know what? I went backstage to see you. I compliment you. I support you. I pay respect to you. What's the deal? You know, it's a difficult business. It is a competitive business. And the friends that I have, the majority of them, aren't friends that I've had for my life. And most of my friends are outside of the business. And I have a few select friends that are in the business, and it's not about the business as to why they are my friends. They're just good people. I think I developed a, I think I have Mrs Sonia, witch aspect to my life. I do. I really do. And I can judge character. I'm not always right, but I can smell fraudulence and I can actually, I can, I feel it. I sense it and I don't let people get close to me that I know are only in it for an ulterior motive.

And actually, it's too late to make friends, even though I can, and I will, um, continue to make friends. But like I said, the friends I have with, the kids I grew up with and the kids that I knew, or the people, kids, um, people 30 years, 32, you know, from my childhood in North Port, through my school years to people. There's just no bullshit. Yeah, you totally feel it and because theatre and show business isn't the thrust of my life. It is what I do. It is not who I am and my life is more important than show business. So if that helps balance who comes into my life.

Alan Seales: Huh. I love that perspective. That's really good. So during COVID shut down, no industry, you have no industry. Are you like, well, that's it I'm retired or are you just itching to get back or do you take a vacation?

Patti LuPone: Oh, that was the scary part because, and I've thought about this for a long time. I don't have hobbies. My hobby is what I do. I tried to garden in the lockdown and I sprained my thumb. So clearly I'm not a gardener. Yeah, they're still in pain, you know, still pulling out weeds. I got addicted to pulling out weeds and my, both of my thumbs are, you know, traumatized by it. Um, but it was, I went to the dark side a lot during the lockdown, um, because I had, uh, and it's not that I couldn't do what I was doing. I had nothing to replace it because all I've ever done is what I do. And so I was at a loss. I didn't know how to fill the time. I didn't know how to be creative on my own. I had to have a geographical escape. I went to visit a friend in Maine on election night, my son and I flew to LA it was going to be his 30th birthday, and I wanted to spend it. My husband, his father would not get on any form of transportation where other people were involved.

Um, and I, it took a long time to accept that I may never do this again. I never may never be on stage again, may never be in front of the camera again. And then I realized, well, the time's flying today. Uh, so retirement didn't appear as scary the longer lockdown went on. And then I didn't know whether I wanted to return. I really didn't. I had I'm going back into rehearsal for Company was, uh, traumatizing. It was, we were all traumatized from everything that happened. And then as this New York company looked at each other on the first day of rehearsal, we were all individually deers caught in headlights and fearful that it all may fall apart. Again, there was no guarantee that we were going to continue rehearsing. There was no guarantee that we would get through technicals. There was no guarantee that we'd get to previews. There was no guarantee that we would get to where we are today. Um, and because of that, this Company is, uh, one of the tightest, most supportive, loving, caring companies I've ever worked with. Because we shared that experience together.

Alan Seales: It's, uh, I've always said that casts become family, chosen family, because you're going through the long days of rehearsals and tech and put-ins and all these things like it is a form of trauma. I've said this before, many times that it's a form of trauma to go through this intense, emotional situation with this group of people. And you get to know them very well, and you get to know them very quickly. And there's very few industries where you know, you walk into a room and you're like oh that person, according to page six, I'm going to have to kiss them in three days, right? So there, it's a weird industry with a weird form of life and Company specifically this is, it's a show about chosen family, and it's a show about, uh, yeah I think there's something very metaphysical about the show and coming back, um, I guess before the shutdown versus after the shutdown. Did any of the feelings about the show change in terms of like, oh wow, we are back. We are here. And we are in real life, sort of living this chosen family scenario?

Patti LuPone: I don't think they had enough time beforehand to, um, we were just getting to know each other, you know, you go through a rehearsal period, you get to know your partner, you get to get another company to a certain degree, but then in a run up apply, personalities are revealed, you know, backstage, they just are, they're just revealed. And that's when you form your family, you know, the repetitiveness of, you know, every night showing up doing the play. Hello. The wonderful, just the atmosphere backstage of a community of people that have chosen to be there. We developed that in this, um, go-round with the show because we shut down so quickly. We're on our ninth preview. I think when we were shut down, we were just, we were still discovering our characters and discovering the life on stage and negotiating how we live backstage when we were shut down. And now it, you know, we were tentative, this go-round, we were tentative, but now when we've been open four and a half months and it's okay.

It feels almost as if we never left and you know, individually never left the stage, not this production, but the status of the backstage line. It settled into a beautiful, absolutely beautiful environment among the stage door people, the crew, the front of house, all of the actors, all of the understudies. There isn't any bitterness or attitude, or there's just, I don't want to say gray. Um, even though that's, I'm sure an underlying feeling. There's just support, there's just respect and support and love. Love, lot of love, you know, if somebody messes up or, you know, there's just— oh, I suppose to fucking asshole. And acceptance. I guess the word that I really need to put out there [is] that these will be lifelong friends, this cast. We will all be lifelong buddies. We went through something together.

Alan Seales: Right, right. Well, that's what I guess I was getting at is it is like on top of the normal emotional bonding that happens, you've got all of the COVID situation and almost opening and not coming back. And then right before opening Sondheim passes away and it's like, God, it's so much emotion wrapped up in all of this. And as somebody whose job it is day in and day out, eight shows a week to emote like this, to not have that outlet. All of a sudden it feels, I suspect it's like this damn just clo—, you know, your outlet just gets clogged up, right. And you've got nothing to do.

Patti LuPone: Yeah. Yeah. It was. There were a lot of hard lessons or hard realizations. Um, but the other thing is I became more famous on zoom than I was in my own life because there were so many play readings and, you know, events to support actors, the actors fund. Um, but it wasn't enough, you know, it wasn't enough. It wasn't enough to just to fulfill that void.

Alan Seales: You gotta feel it. It's different from watching something on zoom or on the internet versus, like you said, looking out at the audience because we're virtually, we're watching you as an audience. It could be hundreds of thousands or millions of people and you can't see any of them because all you see is your cast. So when you're doing things digitally, virtually, so yeah I, oh gosh, I can't imagine that. And I guess going back to something we sort of touched on at the beginning was, um, you know, the status that you are at now, whatever that may be, whoever perceives it in whatever they want, maintaining that success. Uh, is it a lot of pressure for you emotionally? Because the name Patti LuPone conjures up greatness in people's minds, right. When you're like, no, I'm just being real. It's like, oh, that show's got Patti. It's going to be great. So is that, uh, a level of pressure that you feel, or did I just jinx things? How do you deal with —go ahead.

Patti LuPone: The pressure would be, if I stunk on stage, there's the pressure, you know what I mean? I, you know, I do my work because I don't want to stink onstage. And it's all about the work for me. It's all about the rehearsal period. It's all about the discovery. It's all about figuring out how to communicate this to an audience. I, I, there's something about understanding as a stage actor that you need to command. By that, I mean, you need to be confident in the story you're about to tell and be, when you walk on that stage, you need to connect with the audience however you do that and go, relax, sit back, I've got this. I get nervous for actors on stage that are uncomfortable. I'm uncomfortable with them. And that's all I'm looking at. And what I want to do is come on stage with all of my confidence and not be afraid and be able to look at the audience. I look at the audience every single night, because I want to know who I'm playing to. And I look at audience members in the eyes when I am thinking, you know, when Joanne is thinking I'll hook into somebody and I'll just look and they feel it they know that I'm looking at them.

Sort of going as the character Joanna's thinking, but I'm looking at you. I want to make that connection with the audience. There are actors that go on stage that forget they're doing it for the audience. And so they don't include the audience, but I try to get my work done in the rehearsal room so that I can play on stage. And if I can play on stage, the audience can play. The audience can have fun. It's all about the audience for me. And so my goal is to do my work completely so that they can relax. The audience can relax and I'll have to say, um, the audiences that have come to Company, I don't know about any other show, but they have been incredibly respectful of each other. That's why I get so angry. This, you know, we're all in this individual mindset because of social media and the telephones, et cetera that we forget we are in a community of people. And it has to be acknowledged that you are to your right, to your left, to the front end, to the back, you are next to someone alive.

So respect that, respect them. So it angers me that there are the, you know, out of what we're 1,040, there might be one person that's in their own world with their phone on. Why do you think you're exempt? Why do you think you're exempt? Why do you think, you know, we can get into politics now too. Why do you think you're exempt from the rest of the community? When you know, it just, it drives me crazy. Civility and respect. And look at the, you can look at the Ukrainians. They go, do you think Americans would do that? No, I don't think so.

Alan Seales: No, because we've had too much handed to us since we were kids, we haven't had to work hard.

Patti LuPone: We were given, in the universe, the golden apple.

Alan Seales: Yeah.

Patti LuPone: This country, the golden apple, and we are totally trashing it. It's embarrassing to be an American.

Alan Seales: We're going to take a short break, stay tuned for more of the episode.

Alan Seales: And we're going to, we'll wrap up here in a second, but I want to quickly touch on the Andrew Lloyd Weber Memorial pool.

Patti LuPone: Ah, the only thing that's missing is the police drawing at the bottom of it. We went, damn, we should put the police drawing in the bottom.

Alan Seales: So, so, uh, let me see if I can recap the summer here. So, um, you were supposed to do an Evita revival on the West End, right?

Patti LuPone: Me?

Yeah, the whole, like, okay. Oh, maybe I'm telling the story wrong that, um, Glenn Close replaced you in a show on the West End and then you and Andrew Lloyd Webber would, there was talks about this feud forever.

Patti LuPone: Oh, Glenn Close?

Alan Seales: Yeah

Patti LuPone: Or Andrew Lloyd Webber?

Alan Seales: Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Patti LuPone: Oh. Cause he fired me from Sunset Boulevard.

Alan Seales: Sunset Boulevard. That's what it was.

Patti LuPone: Yeah, yeah.

Alan Seales: For Glenn. Yeah. Right. So, so the story—

Patti LuPone: Here's the deal that's really, and I don't think I'm the only actor that feels this, but when you do a dual production, you're setting up a competition. And it's as if you're looking at the two actresses that are playing the role and deciding which one should go to Broadway. And that happens in another Andrew Lloyd Webber, somebody was in Toronto planning it, and somebody was flying it someplace else and they chose to go from Toronto. I had a contract to come to New York and I had an, I would not get on the plane without having the West End on New York, um, contracts. So there's a tendency to blame everybody but himself. You know, shoot the messenger on my phone. And, um, yeah, he fired me. Unceremoniously fired me. I didn't get the reviews he wanted. Um, so he fired me and there was a double production before I got on the plane. They had cast Glenn Close. That is like nine months away. I'm not even in work personnel for the Western production. And they've announced the LA company. It was so insulting. It was so disrespectful and it was—so it started out, but it started out bad in negotiations and we should have been aware of that and we should have gone, okay, we're withdrawing. But for some reason, I've thought I gotta do this. I don't know why. Um, it was a really horrible experience and, um, it wasn't a horrible experience on the West End when I was doing it there, it was the creation of trying to get me off the stage so they wouldn't have to pay my contract.

Alan Seales: Right. And I, and then the whole—as the tabloids have reported that I think settled in court for rent a million dollars, which then built the pool, the Memorial pool that you have, or the pool. In one of your—in your house, you have now famously named the Andrew Lloyd Webber Memorial Pool. Oh, I love that. I love that. Are there any producers now on Broadway? I mean, we've gone through so much transformation, uh, just in the last couple of years alone because of this racial reckoning that's come about. And of course, like Scott Rudin has come, he's been forced out of the business and all these sort of things.

Patti LuPone: Uh, has he or is he manipulating behind the scene?

Alan Seales: I have no proof either way, but I tend to agree with you. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I'm happy. I'm just happy Beetlejuice has found a new home.

Patti LuPone: Me too. I love Beetlejuice.

Alan Seales: God, it was so good, right?

Patti LuPone: So good. Sophia Anne Caruso blew my mind.

Alan Seales: And Alex Brightman, just anything Alex touches is amazing too. He's another one. Alex Brightman, Patti LuPone, those names right there. You guys need to do something together.

Patti LuPone: I could play his grandmother.

Alan Seales: So my question was, are there any producers now, is there any creative team that you, like, no matter what the offer is, you're just like, I got to work with this person I got to work with—

Patti LuPone: Yeah, I think Lin Manuel's team I would love to work with. I'd love to work with Chris Harper again, um, David Stone. Um, it's interesting. I don't know who the producers are anymore. Really. Um, everything is so changed. I keep looking at Broadway thinking oh it’s a combination of Las Vegas and Disneyland.

Alan Seales: Yeah. But because of the American social media, you want to bring that back. That's what people expect because look at—

Patti LuPone: They need to be re-educated. They need to be re-educated. I resent producers or anybody that underestimate the audience's intelligence. Let them work for it. Don't give it to them. Let them work for it. I mean, I had to work for Power of the Dog and I'm so glad I did. Do you know what I mean? Watching it, I was trying to figure out Power of the Dog forever, and my husband nailed it. But at the end, my husband nailed what was happening and I'm going, oh my God, this is so much fun. I mean, it's so much fun to utilize your fucking brain. Don't hand it to me.

Alan Seales: But that's the dichotomy we're living in right now because the audience demographic that's going to get it, that's going to think isn't on social media, which is where the marketing budget is going now because you've got the Disney's and you've got the Vegas type of shows, right? Like that are marketing to this younger generation because you have to have, of course, people coming in to replace the people who are going out from an audience perspective and the younger generation, all they know is social media. All they know is what's fitting on their digital screens.

Patti LuPone: And I disagree with you. I think you're not giving the younger generation more credit, the credit that's due to them. I think they're really—I mean, we've got a lot of young kids at the show. I mean, I look out at them every single night and go, you're here at Company. You're here at this 50-year-old Chestnut. You're here. Um, and I really do think that we're underestimating the audience. I think, and why are we looking at statistics? Just be creative and let the audience decide. I mean, the fact that we are looking at statistics and marketing as opposed to putting a piece of original theatre out there, be it good or bad, let the audience decide. Let the audience engage that brain. It just drives me nuts that we have to look at the statistics. Well, you know what who said? Who said? Whose statistics? I was, uh, a judge on a Jonathan Larson, the musical theatre grant. I was a judge and there is so much creative musicals. So many creative ideas out there in the form of musicals, playwrights, and lyricists composers. They will never see a production because nobody will take a chance. And yet these blew my mind. They blew my mind. They were so creative.

Alan Seales: Look at what you said about, you know, you want to work with Lin's team, right? Like, uh, I give credit to Jill Furman, Jenny Steingart these producers, uh, that took a chance on In the Heights, which of course led to so many other things in Hamilton, which just blew up his career and now he's paying it forward and bringing in all these other people and giving them chances and recognition. And I absolutely love when this stuff pays off because you can—there's a place, I guess, a time and a place for the shore fire kind of thing. And, you know, one could argue, do we need a revival of Music Man right now? You know, that's another conversation, but there are, uh, I guess a lot of opportunities for us to re-invent like you were saying, reinvent how we are investing in youth and how we are re-investing in taking chances on unknown authors and unknown critics for that matter, right? Like, let's get more people of color.

Patti LuPone: These kids are the same age as the kids you're talking about that are on social media, these kids that are writing the stuff.

Alan Seales: Yeah.

Patti LuPone: So produce them, get them on stage, get them on stage. I'm telling you, I look out at the audience I do see a lot of young people in the audience. And I remember calling, um, Steve, uh, when I was doing Sweeney and I went, you know, it was called a slasher musical and I'm going, Steve, there's just so many young kids in the audience. I'm just letting you know. And there were tons of youth when we were doing John Doyle production of Sweeney. Um, same thing. I'm trying to think of the other one that I did. And I looked out and I went, there's so many kids, there's so many kids. I think even on social media, people do want a connection, even on social media. Even if that you've grown up with that, you still want, even if you're not, even if it's just a subconscious thing, you want that. You want a human connection.

Alan Seales: Absolutely.

Patti LuPone: They're buying the tickets. They're buying the tickets. They're buying the tickets. Unfortunately, everything is so expensive on Broadway that it's hard to produce them. So I don't know. I think there should be a tax levied on Disney and anybody else that comes to Broadway and open up a black box open, you know. Instead of the gift shop, you gotta walk through outside of Lion King, make that a black box and produce a young playwright, a young composer and lyricist. Put it out there. That's what I think. And I also think there should be term limits on federal, Supreme court charges and Broadway musicals.

Alan Seales: That's not a bad idea and more theatres too. God the logistics of getting a theatre, getting it built, paying the rent, God, there's a systemic issue. There's so many systemic issues of going back to, you know, being an American again, like, New York City. God, I agree with you that it is so hard. And you have people that, especially when you're finding investors for a project, you can't just put something up, you have to find investors. And those investors basically are like, I know I'm going to lose this money because what is it? What's the statistic that like only 20 or 30% of productions recoup on Broadway or something.

Patti LuPone: I just met some guy who was investing in Paradise Square and I went, why not? That has nothing to do with Paradise Square. I haven't seen it yet. I'm going to the opening and I thought, why are you investing in Broadway? Do you need to lose money?

Alan Seales: Yeah.

Patti LuPone: This guy wasn't even, you know, somebody from Broadway. He was just like a venture capitalist or something like that. He was a very rich guy that was in—I mean what draws you to Broadway? Do you go to Broadway all the time? Do you love the theatre? It didn't look to me like you love the heater and it was like, I really blurted. It came out of my mouth. I'm you know, I'm an investor in Paradise Square. I just went, please make this clear it has nothing to do with Paradise Square. It's what is this guy doing? It's a losing proposition.

Alan Seales: Right. It's tough. But I mean, what if it pays off? And I think that's the gamble, right? It's a high risk, high reward. So—

Patti LuPone: But that's one play every decade.

Alan Seales: Yeah. I don't know. I've invested, I've done some producing and it's for the love of it. It's for the love of like you were saying, I want to give, I want to help, too, in whatever way I can. Bring new voices, bring new stories, bring something to the stage, to the world too. And it's part of why I do this podcast is because I want to bring these stories to the world for people who may not ever get a chance to see them, who may not ever get a chance to talk to you in person, like we're bringing this in you and the industry. We're increasing accessibility. That's what I'm all about. And that's why I lay down some money every now and then.

Patti LuPone: Excellent. Excellent. I just, you know, it's time for us to, uh, you know, I guess, I suppose it's the time to listen and the time to lead and I think it's probably the time to lead the creative community.

Alan Seales: Yeah.

Patti LuPone: It's time to put those ideas out there and yeah. And re-educate, or educate an audience about what is happening in our world.

Alan Seales: Well, we don't need probably as a musical about COVID, but I would have said we don't need a musical about 9/11 either, but Come from Away is amazing so who knows what's being written right now? Um, is there a role that you would, like you've done so much and been offered so much and is there a role that you still want to—you still can do that you want to do that hasn't been offered yet?

Patti LuPone: Um, yeah. Well, 10 of them went by, you know, in my youth. I wanted to do Ruth and Wonderful Town. I really wanted to play Ruth in Wonderful Town. You know, I don't think that way. I found that if I desired a role and didn't get it, it was incredibly disappointing. And you know, there were tears and I was like, what's wrong. Instead of going after a role, now what's more exciting and more surprising because what comes to me, those are the roles I'm intended to play. I never thought I'd play Joann. I never thought I'd play Nellie Lovett. I think I'm going to die in the world of Joanne. Just keep playing Joanne. So it's just easier on my emotional health to not desire something and not go after something but just wait. I mean, for instance, I'm in an Ari Aster movie and I'm shocked that I got the part. I'm shocked that I got to work with him and I'm—how did that happen? How does that happen? It happens. And actually, when I was on the zoom with Ari, I went, are you like a Broadway musical queen? How do you know me? And you know how he knows me. He knows me from David Mamet, The Anarchist.

Alan Seales: Wow.

Patti LuPone: And you know what? This is why you do the things you do. Because it leads you to the next and it leads you in the right direction, the direction you're supposed to go. And that to me is a fulfillment of a career.

Alan Seales: That's beautiful. That is beautiful. I love that. And so I think that is a great place to wrap up. And I'm going to send you, I'm going to ask you my three standard closing questions that I ask everybody. The first one just very simply is what motivates you?

Patti LuPone: I don't know, just getting up in the morning. What motivates me in what respect, motivation, what to go to the theatre? To live?

Alan Seales: To do what you do, to want to keep coming back when you were saying, okay, so I'll quantify this when COVID—

Patti LuPone: Oh yeah what motivates me is—

Alan Seales: Yeah, go ahead.

Patti LuPone: What motivates me is the gift I have been given. That's what motivates me. Um, yeah.

Alan Seales: I love that.

Patti LuPone: The gift I've been given.

Alan Seales: And what advice would you give to your younger self and younger people listening now starting out down a similar path?

Patti LuPone: Well, John Houseman said to my entire class. Discipline.

Alan Seales: Don't go to Julliard in New York in the seventies.

Patti LuPone: Right before he's threatened to cancel the entire class. Yeah, I would say study and discipline. I would say that, you know, I was not a good student. I'm surprised I got as far as I did. I really was not a good student. Um, I would say discipline and just study, really study the craft if that's what you want to do.

Alan Seales: I love that. All right. And then last question. This is super hard. If you could only see one show for the rest of your life, but you can see it as many times as you want. What would you see?

Patti LuPone: Peter Brook Midsummer Night's Dream.

Alan Seales: Hmm, that's the first response for that show. I like that.

Patti LuPone: It's incredible. It has stayed with me since I think it was 1976.

Alan Seales: Wow. Wow. Before the pandemic, the most answered—the show that I got the most with that answer was Sweeney actually.

Patti LuPone: But whose Sweeney? John Doyle's Sweeney?

Alan Seales: Any production. People love it. People love it. And then after COVID, I don't think anybody's said it. I don't know what it is about post-morterm. People long comedy, people want comedy.

Alan Seales: All right. Well, you are on Twitter @PattiLuPone. You have a website, PattiLupone.net, which, oh, we didn't even get into your memoir. You have a book, which I think is amazing. You wrote a book a few years ago, so there's links to the book. Um, on your website, we'll have the link to the book in, uh, my show notes as well. And I didn't even touch on the full depth of your bio. So I'll link in the show notes to your full bio as well. Is there anything else I missed? Are you online anywhere else you want to plug?

Patti LuPone: I'm barely online. I can barely, you know, I didn't grow up with the computer. My son is so frustrated with my husband and me as he grew up with a computer. And you know what I think it's not healthy to be on social media so much. I think we do lose sight of, um, how we actually connect with human beings.

Alan Seales: Oh, absolutely.

Patti LuPone: It's just a mean, cold place.

Alan Seales: There's been studies published that people are losing, kids are losing the ability to maintain conversation because they just look at their phones and that's where they get their dopamine release from likes and clicks and checks and hearts, right. I felt—sound like an old person right now. Get off my lawn. So it, yeah, I totally feel that and agree with you that like conversation is becoming a lost art form. Like you don't need to use an app to meet people, but people don't know any other way anymore. So anyway, get off your phones. Go see some live theatre because, you know, go see Company. That's a great show to see right now. I love it. Oh my God. I saw just a quick plug when you were out for you were out, you got COVID so you sound like you're better. Loved that Jen Samar had got so much attention. Like she, she is phenomenally, uh, amazing. And I guess this is just one last question is working with Chris CBRE and Jensen are two of my absolute favorite people in the world. Like the three of you guys have to have so much fun.

Patti LuPone: Oh, yeah. The whole company, the whole company is extraordinary.

Alan Seales: The company of Company.

Patti LuPone: Yeah.

Alan Seales: Cool. Well, thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. I know that you are selective in your interviews and I could not think of a better guest for this 200th episode. Thank you so much.

Patti LuPone: You're so sweet. I'm honored. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Alan Seales: Thank you all again for listening. Episode 200. I still can't believe it of The Theater Podcast. Thank you to Patti LuPone. You were such a wonderful guest. As always find me online on Instagram and Twitter at theatre underscore podcast. I'm on facebook.com/officialtheaterpodcast. Leave a rating and a review wherever you're listening. Actually, you know what? I just started posting on TikTok. So find me on TikTok. I am The Theatre Podcast on TikTok. How many times can I say TikTok? There you go. There's one more. Everybody, please have a wonderful, lovely day. There are so many openings on Broadway in April. Please try to see a show. If you can support the arts, support your podcast community. And now here's to another 200 episodes.

Combined across the Emmys, Grammys, Olivier and Tony Awards, Patt LuPone has 14 nominations and six wins. Her resume includes 27 Broadway credits, including Eva Perón in the original Broadway production of Evita (1st Tony Award), Anything Goes, Sweeney Todd, Noises Off, Rose in the 2008 Broadway revival of Gypsy (2nd Tony Award), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, War Paint, Working, Oliver!, The Robber Bridegroom, and The Beggar’s Opera. In London she starred in the original casts of Les Misérables, The Cradle Will Rock, Sunset Boulevard, and the West End revival of Company. She also has a long and illustrious career across TV and film, with credits including Driving Miss Daisy, Frasier, Will and Grace, Ugly Betty, 30 Rock, Glee, American Horror Story, Girls, Penny Dreadful, and of course, Life Goes On. She’s a voiceover artist, a cabaret performer, a mom, and performs regularly with the New York Philharmonic, all of which mean you can find her singing across 22 different albums. Patti LuPone was the first American to ever win an Olivier Award, has been inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame, and can now be seen on Broadway in the revival of Company.

LuPone recalls her first introduction to the musical Gypsy (playing Louise) in high school, speaking candidly about not understanding the play at the time, and shares how she was initially banned from participating in any of Arthur Laurents work before going on to win a Tony Award for playing Rose. She reflects on going to the “dark side” a lot when COVID shut the industry down, noting it wasn’t that she couldn’t perform but rather that she had nothing to fill that void with, and shares how close-knit and supportive the cast and crew of Company is as a result of the collective trauma and uncertainty they faced together once they resumed rehearsals. LuPone also speaks about the importance of doing her work completely in the rehearsal room, allowing her and the audience to both play and relax once she is onstage, and shares why she looks at the audience every single night.

In this episode, we talk about: 

  • Being in one of the first-ever students in Juilliard’s school of drama in the 70’s
  • Her Marilyn Monroe impression at 3 years old
  • What it is about laughter from an audience that brings her joy
  • What she calls the “Italian blast”, and not having a filter
  • Her “Andrew Lloyd Webber memorial pool”
  • Resenting producers or anybody that underestimates the audience’s intelligence

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