‘Gypsy’ in her soul

Posted on 08 Sep 2011 at 5:00pm

B’way legend and gay icon Patti LuPone brings her powerful pipes to Dallas

concerts-1ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

You might not have seen her name above the title on a movie or welcomed her every week into your house via the boob tube, but when it comes to the stage, there are few contemporary performers who rival Patti LuPone.

“I’m not a movie actress — I think I’m a hard sell in the movies,” LuPone says matter-of-factly. (She is, however, about to shoot a film in New Orleans, playing  J-Lo’s mom.) While the Juilliard-trained actress has met her greatest success in musical theater, it’s her acting chops that have transformed songs like “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” (from Evita — her first Tony Award) and “Rose’s Turn” (Gypsy — her second Tony). The latter was a career highlight: The most ferocious role for a woman ever written for an American musical. Two years after it closed, she’s still happy to talk about it.

“It was great,” she beams. “Arthur [Laurents, the director and writer] assembled a spectacular cast — we really were a triumvirate. I don’t think you can act alone. You need partners on stage.”

That the production took place “was really done as a tribute to Arthur’s partner of 50 years, Tom Hatcher,: she says. “Tom had just died, and he’s the one who told Arthur to do West Side Story and Gypsy. Arthur agreed to do it basically to keep him alive. He wanted it to be different than the last one and really have an acted show.”

Although the entire principal cast won Tonys, Laurents did not.  “How could the director not win!” LuPone says, voice filling with outrage. You sense it’s such emotional readiness that has made her a Broadway icon.

LuPone brings that legendary power to the stage of the Meyerson this week, with what she calls a “piano and voice only” concert (no orchestra), titled Gypsy in My Soul. “It’s a collection of songs including some showtunes,” she says.

When an actress so identified with certain composers, especially Stephen Sondheim, performs in concert, she can run the risk of being compelled to perform songs that no longer interest her. That’s simply not the case with LuPone.

“Songs never become old hat to me, “ she says categorically. “Because audiences want to hear one, so I do one — not even because I have to; I want to. If they are really good songs you want to sing them.”

LuPone has, in one venue or another, run through almost the entire Sondheim repertoire: Mama Rose, Passion, Company, Mrs. Lovett from Sweeney Todd (another Tony nomination — “I actually got rotator cuff problems from carrying around that tuba”). Really, only two have eluded her.

“I wanted to play Desiree [in the revival of A Little Night Music, which closed earlier this year on Broadway]. I contacted Trevor [Nunn, the director], who didn’t contact me back,” she says, with a sting. “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 d like to play Cinderella, so I came in and auditioned for that. Then they said, ‘We still want you to play the Witch.’ Then negotiations fell apart.”

Her resume is littered with shows — some huge hits, some personal triumphs.

“I loved Women on the Verge,” she says of her last Broadway venture, which closed quickly last year (though not before landing her a sixth Tony nom). “I think there’s a lot of creativity [on Broadway] now, but I’m sick and tired of the spectacles. My biggest complaint is the sound level: I’d rather be brought to the stage than pushed back in my seat.”

And she’s always looking ahead. “Mandy [Patinkin] and I are coming to Broadway for nine weeks [soon], then we will go out on the road both together and separately. Then there’s stuff happening that I can’t say because I’m not supposed to,” she teases.

You might expect she’d find a pace more suitable for a 62-year-old, but LuPone denies that the demands of eight shows a week wear her out.

“I have Italian peasant energy,” he says. “Even at my age, there is this abundance of energy, especially songs that are physically demanding. I am exhilarated by them.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

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