Patti LuPone Presents A Life In Notes – A Shimmering Reflection Of A Broadway Gem

Patti LuPone is often described as one of the great performers of musical theatre, but she’d describe herself first and foremost as an actor – one who can also sing.

Patti LuPone - Image © Douglas Friedman

Undoubtedly Patti LuPone is Broadway royalty, having worked closely with playwright David Mamet on many of his works, and starred in many beloved musicals.

In the 1970s she was cast as Eva Perón in 'Evita', when it made the move from London’s West End, and she’s had acclaimed performances in 'Anything Goes', 'Company', 'Sweeney Todd', 'Les Misérables' and many other productions.

This June, the three-time Tony Award-winner will bring her show 'Patti LuPone: A Life In Notes' to Australia, with a tour which begins at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, before taking in dates in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

While the show includes some of the Broadway songs that you automatically associate with LuPone, it is also full of unexpected song choices including songs made famous by Eartha Kitt, Cyndi Lauper, Janis Ian and George Benson.

Speaking from her home in Connecticut, LuPone says she wanted a show that took us through the decades, and the songs are ones that she was listening to at different stages in her life.

“I came upon this idea of singing songs, not Broadway show tunes that I'm known for, but stuff that I actually grew up with as a kid, before I actually became a professional,” she says.

“I started out by just listening to music, decade by decade, to jog my memory. Then we came up with this idea that there are songs from personal touchstones, and then songs that reflect different decades.”

Having already garnered rave reviews around the US, LuPone says the feedback from audiences has been an appreciation of a shared experience.

“People take the journey with me. My reflection has audience members reflecting on their own musical choices when they were growing up.”

Patti LuPone Douglas Friedman
Image © Douglas Friedman

The tour will be Patti LuPone’s fifth trip to Australia; she has fond memories of her first foray down under. The chance to come to Australia came when producer Robert Stigwood suddenly needed to find someone familiar with 'Evita' at short notice.

“It was in 1981. I can't remember the woman's name that was playing Evita, but she apparently lost her voice and Robert Stigwood called me up and asked me if I wanted to come down to Australia to be in 'Evita'.

“I'd left 'Evita', I was done with it. But I thought, no one's ever going to ask me to work in Australia again, so I was thrilled to come. I had a great time, I had a fantastic time!”

While 'Evita' brought her international fame, LuPone has previously spoken about it not being a show she was fond of.

“'Evita' was hard, it was the most difficult role I've ever played. It certainly wasn't about reprising the role, it was about going to Australia,” she says of the decision to play the role a second time.

“I think it's the singing. Where it's voiced for a woman. That was my problem, all of the high notes were in my passaggio.

“It was just treacherous every single night to go on stage. If I hit the ‘D’ the wrong way at the beginning of the show, it affected the rest of the show, which affected the rest of the week. It's just where it was sitting, in my voice, I don't know about anybody else,” LuPone says, giving her frank assessment of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s work.

“There’s no role there actually, it’s all exposition as well.” she adds.

Decades into her career, LuPone is constantly taking on intriguing and unexpected new roles. She’s appeared on our screens in '30 Rock', 'American Horror Story', 'Pose', voiced the character of Yellow Diamond in 'Steven Universe', and soon will appear in the Marvel series 'Agatha'.

The actor says she’s stopped chasing roles, and now just gets surprised by everything she’s offered. “It’s interesting, because I stopped wanting certain roles because I would not get them. So what's exciting is what actually comes to me.”

“It's very varied. It's always surprising. I don't look for something anymore. I'm just surprised when something is presented to me. This Marvel thing was completely out of the blue.”

Her role in 'Agatha' has seen her strike up a friendship with 'Heartstopper' star Joe Locke, who also appears in the series.

When Locke recently appeared on UK television for a celebrity edition of 'The Great British Bakeoff', he was given the challenge of recreating a friend in cake form. His announcement that he was making Patti LuPone’s face as a cake undoubtedly drew gasps from musical theatre gays around the globe.

So, has the great diva herself seen herself in cake form? Indeed she has – when asked about it. . . She breaks out in a screech of laughter.

“I know, and it’s so sweet! This was so sweet of him,” LuPone says, giving her endorsement to Locke’s baking efforts.

Having endured the roller coaster ride of an actor’s life, LuPone is blunt in the advice she’d give to anyone aspiring to tread the boards or stand in front of a camera.

“The first question is, do you have any talent? People want to be on stage and they don't have any talent. You just wonder what they're doing.”

Patti Lupone credit RobertTorres
Image © Robert Torres

“So I would say find out, really be honest with yourself, and if you have talent – then pursue it. If you don't have talent, but you think you do – think again.”

LuPone has also made headlines for her no-nonsense approach to people not paying attention in the theatre.

On more than one occasion she’s stopped a show and called out an audience member texting during a performance. She’s even confiscated an audience member’s phone until the end of the show.

LuPone has some theories about why we’ve forgotten theatre etiquette.

“I think social media, the telephone, everybody's so isolated, they forget where they are. They forget they're in a communal situation. It’s always one or two people that spoil it for everybody else.

“It's gotten better in New York. Well, it depends on the place. It really depends on what you're seeing, but for the most part I think that other audience members and the ushers have become more vigilant about the phones.”

Brought up to speed about Australia’s recent discussions on the topic after a comedian asked a patron with a baby to step out of their show, LuPone doesn’t hold back.

“I don't blame that comedian at all. Why are you bringing your kid to a comedy show? I mean, some kids are too young to understand anything. Why are you bringing your kid, can't you get a babysitter?!”

Patti LuPone is a not-to-be-missed experience. Just remember to turn your phone off, and don’t bring a baby.

Patti LuPone plays Adelaide (Festival Theatre, 19 June), Sydney (City Recital Hall, 21-22 June), Melbourne (Palais Theatre, 24-25 June) and Brisbane (QPAC, 27 June).