By Donalevan Maines
Drunk in the ladies’ room” of the gay nightclub Queen Mary in Studio City, California, Broadway diva Patti LuPone told “two six-feet-tall drag queens, both prettier than me” her good news: she had been cast as Norma Desmond in the new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Sunset Boulevard.
“They squealed in delight,” remembers LuPone. “Afterward I felt so tawdry.”
Same here. I probably won’t respect myself in the morning, but tonight I boarded LuPone’s trip down memory lane, including “inEVITAble” backstage stories surrounding her award-winning roles as Eva Peron (“a trial by fire, with the constant threat of being burned at the stake”) and Mama Rose, which she played as “a pioneer without a frontier.”
I even learned a thing or two.
Did you know that LuPone and her brother Bobby were the first siblings nominated for a Tony Award in the same year (1976)?
Did you know that she played Lady Bird Johnson in the TV movie LBJ: The Early Years? “Well, it’s a far cry from Evita to me,” the humble Texan told LuPone when they met. “Evita was a bird of paradise, and I’m just a little mouse.”
The memoir includes glimpses of LuPone’s storied career with Kevin Kline (“my first great love”), Hairspray director Jack O’Brien, John Houseman, Topol, David Merrick, Mandy Patinkin, Steven Spielberg, and others.
Her story begins at age four, with LuPone “dancing furiously” in a dance recital, and follows her through the drama division of the Julliard School, successes and heartbreaks, and roles ranging from Fantine in Les Misérables and a tuba-playing Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd to Maria Callas in Master Class and Libby Thacher, opposite an actor with Down Syndrome, on Life Goes On.
The actress also offers these words of advice: “The less you care, the freer you are” and “When you swallow your pride, you often choke on it.”
Patti LuPone: A Memoir by Patti LuPone with Digby Diehl
2010, Crown Archetype (crownpublishing.com) 336 pages
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.