Patti LuPone

Broadway diva, red-hot Mama, potential sidewalk vigilante

Who are your favorite New Yorkers?
Patti LuPone: Stagehands, because they’re the salt of the earth. Stagehands of every theater in New York City, be it the Metropolitan Opera or the Apollo.

What is the biggest thing that’s happened to the city in the past 13 years?
Patti LuPone: What the hell are they doing to Times Square? This is my question. Is it a theme park? Is it a walking district? Is it a pedicab-carriage district? Is it a strip mall? Frankly, I wish they would go back to the fact that this is the theater district, and allow it to be the theater district. Enough with the MTV and the Hard Rock Cafe. I so preferred it when my life was in danger walking the streets of Times Square. I would rather have a sex shop than an Applebee’s.

What’s your favorite place or thing in New York?
Patti LuPone: Central Park. And 45th Street is my favorite street in New York—West 45th Street between Broadway and Eighth, because of the string of theaters and the carriage trade on that particular street.

What’s your personal favorite moment that you’ve had in New York? Where were you, and what was happening?
Patti LuPone: [To her son Josh, riding in the front seat of the limousine] Josh, put your seat belt on, honey. [To me] I would have to say my marriage. I got married onstage at the Vivian Beaumont Theater on a day off from Anything Goes.

What is the future of New York? What are your hopes for the future of New York, and what needs to happen for that to happen?
Patti LuPone: Well, New York seems to be thriving, which I’m grateful for. But I would hope that they would figure out how to negotiate the traffic and limit the pedicabs, because it seems to me that it’s becoming a more chaotic city. It’s always been controlled chaos, but it seems like it’s just totally chaotic now, which is really scary to me. Oh my Lord—the traffic and the people. I don’t know where they’re coming from, and I don’t know why they’re stopping in the middle of the sidewalk! [Laughs] A friend of mine said she has sidewalk rage.

If you could have a drink with anyone else on this list, whom would it be?
Patti LuPone: Kiki & Herb!

You know, I just talked to Justin this afternoon, and he chose you!
Patti LuPone: Oh, no way! Perfect! You have to call him and tell him I said him! But I want Kiki and Herb in drag. Kiki’s got to be in drag!

What does Time Out mean to you?
Patti LuPone: It means the pulse of Manhattan.

Complete the sentence: New York is…
Patti LuPone: …my hometown. My workplace. My breath. My craft. My culture. My education. A lot of my fears. My blood and soul.

The first time I interviewed you, four years ago, you were sort of Broadway diva in exile. And then came Sweeney Todd, and now you’re playing Rose in Gypsy, and suddenly it’s apotheosis time. What do you make of that?
Patti LuPone: I can’t expect anything of my career; my career has always taken me by surprise. So this is another surprise. For all intents and purposes, I was never to play this role, if the story is true [that Gypsy author Arthur Laurents had barred her from the role]. But I’m playing it, and I’m having a kind of success with it that I didn’t anticipate, where people are more moved than I ever anticipated. I can only say it is the pattern I’ve lived with my entire career. The one thing I do know is that I’m never ready for show business when it does show up. It’s always this struggle: “Oh, my God, I’m back in show business again.” But I’m incredibly grateful for what has happened with this production, with this cast. A lot of things are tumbling on each other because of this production. It’s snowballing. Thank God. Thank God, and finally.

How do you manage to do Gypsy on two-show days, Wednesdays and Saturdays?
Patti LuPone: They’re hard. I go home on Tuesday night and get up as late as possible on Wednesday, and vocalize as late as possible. I have to have a proper protein meal and sleep; if I don’t, then I’m totally screwed. I’m built for this, but [Rose] is a hard part. I am old…er than most people that play the part. It takes a lot of discipline. And vitamins and protein drinks.

The great musical-theater stars from your generation—you, Bernadette Peters, Betty Buckley—have very specific performance styles. That seems to be less true of the younger generations: Almost nobody has a definable persona. What are your feelings on that?
Patti LuPone: That’s charisma, is what it is. It’s star power. It’s sex appeal. How do you develop that? First of all, you either have it, or you don’t. And I think they elevate people to a level of stardom before they develop their craft or their persona—or they don’t have one, but the marketing develops a star. It’s bad for the industry that the people who are in the star positions aren’t qualified to move an audience, to take the audience on a journey. Audiences need actors who are going to relax them when they sit in the seat. And you can’t do that without experience, and you can’t do that without talent. You need certain things to create the environment for a theatrical experience.

Many actors these days give studied, contained performances that do what they’re supposed to do but don’t risk anything beyond than that. But you seem willing to go to bigger, riskier places. Is that built into the way that you are?
Patti LuPone: Yes. And it’s been a struggle my entire career. It’s not acceptable in this country. Who I am, my face, my persona, if you want to call it that, is at home and comfortable and anonymous in Italy. In America, it stands out, because it’s raw, it’s big, it’s emotional. My face is raw, big and emotional. It didn’t work for the longest time. All my career, I’ve said this: Critics and producers think audiences want actors that only present the silhouette, and hit the points in the silhouette. What I do is too dangerous. I guess it isn’t anymore. [Laughs] I guess it’s okay. Look at the audience’s response in Gypsy! And I’m not holding anything back.

Is your personal life is as dramatic as your stage life?
Patti LuPone: [To her son] Josh, Adam wants to know if my personal life is as dramatic as my stage life.
Josh: Of course not! Of course not, Mom! Now when do I get my money?
Patti LuPone: [Laughs] I dare you to print that!

Next: Kelly Reichardt >

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