When divas fight


“Ill get rid of that damn song if I have to poison the bird seed.”

- David Merrick, Tony Award-winning theatrical producer, on the song “Meadowlark,” from the musical, The Baker’s Wife. (According to Patti LuPone)

Who knew this classic, emotive, and nearly cliché cabaret song would cause such a ruckus?

The background (It’s long, so bear with me):

Betty Buckley and Patti LuPone both sing “Meadowlark” in their concerts. It’s a signature song. Over the past several years, the two divas have bickered about who “owns” the song – aka who it was written for. Recently, the tussle has reached new levels of awareness as a result of Buckley prefacing her performance of the number with a very funny story. I heard this story first hand last year when I saw Buckley at Feinstein’s (greatest weekend ever!)

Buckley’s story is as follows:

Apparently, Betty heard through the grapevine that Patti was upset that she (Betty) was going around telling audiences that Stephen Schwartz wrote the song for her (Betty). Betty recalls Schwartz did, in fact, write the song for her back when the show was still a concept. This was the early 70s. Even though Schwartz wanted her for the role, the producers had other ideas, and Betty underwent several auditions, eventually losing out, much to her dismay. A woman named Carole Demas was cast instead, eventually fired, and Patti was hired to play the role in the ill-fated pre-Broadway tour.

Betty claims that she called Patti on the phone to iron things out. Patti got all huffy, stated that she had originated the role, and sniffed back, “Well, how would you like it if I sang ‘Memory!”‘ (This is Buckley’s signature song – she originated Grizabella in Cats on Broadway and won a Tony for it. Incidentally, I have a recording of Patti singing “Memory” at an Andrew Lloyd Webber concert.) They hung up, and both immediately called Schwartz on the phone to ask who the song was written for. Diplomatically, he said he couldn’t recall. They called each other again, and agreed that they were both too old to sing the song anyway, so they would each retire it.

Please note: They are both still singing the song.

Today, Playbill.com has an interview with Patti, where she basically calls Betty a lier:

“I just want to go on record that I have never claimed ‘Meadowlark’ was written for me. I know it wasn’t. I replaced Carole [Demas], who originated the role and the song. So I never have claimed that ‘Meadowlark’ was written for me.”

Really, Patti? You never claimed this? Well, perhaps you forgot something you said years ago.

LuPone has a web site, where she infrequently posts rants, raves, restaurant reviews, ramblings, etc. About nine years ago (I have a mind like a steel trap!), Patti posted a rant that was on her site for a single day. It referenced a “broke down diva” who goes around claiming that “Meadowlark” was written for her, when the song was, in fact, HERS, dammit. I really wish I had copied and saved it. The next day, the post was replaced with this one:

“I’ve changed my mind and have withdrawn certain stories that started this Ramblings. I don’t want to invite un-necessary controversy. It’s just lousy Karma.”

Trust me – she basically ripped Buckley a new one.

I can’t wait to see what transpires next in the Meadowlarkgate scandal. I love shit like this.

Buckley’s new-agey “Meadowlark”:

Patti’s crotch-grabbing “Meadowlark”:

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8 Comments

  1. Ugh, it makes them all look stupid after a while. But I’m glad you’re having fun, baby doll :)

    • You might all be interested to know a few things about Carole Demas, who was the first contracted person to play this role and opened it in Los angeles at the Dorothy Chandler pavillion to standing ovations each night she sang it. Furthermore, Carole Demas created the role of Sandy in the original production of Grease among her many credits. Stephen Schwartz in his biography “Defying Gravity” says that Carole was scapegoated and that is the only reason she was fired. She was the first of many people fired from the show including the Director and eventually even Topal, all to no avail and the show closed anyway and never made it into New York. Carole sings Meadowlark to this day in her concerts and cabaret work and if you really want to hear it performed as it was meant to be, you should see her do it.

  2. You might be interested in this from musicalschwartz.com He may not have written it for Betty but she definitely influenced it:

    “Betty Buckley has had a long history with this song. In fact, Stephen told a story about her interpretation of the song on Betty’s special that aired on the Bravo network. Stephen heard her sing this song a number of years ago where she had changed a note (specifically lowered one little note) near the beginning of the song. He liked what he heard however. So much so that when it came time to publish the sheet music, he changed the original note he had written to her lower note, as he now preferred it to the original. “

  3. As do I, Phoebe.

    And much as I love her, Patti has sucked the emotion right out of it every time I’ve heard her sing it. I know Betty also has a tendency to over-emote, but her approach works for me in this song in the way Patti’s never has, because Patti steamrolls through it. I’m not saying it’s the deepest thing out there, but Betty sings it like a grownup, which gives it a completely different tone, and Patti sings it like she’s still 20 years old. So I give the advantage to Buckles, regardless of the truth behind their weird alternate tellings of this particular story, or even the original intention of the song. To me personally, it’s simply a more interesting song coming from an adult than coming from a 20-year-old.

  4. Patti sings the song as if she’s ready to eat the Meadowlark.

    Gator, who rarely has opinions on this sort of thing, said after he saw Betty perform the song at Ravinia that Betty’s is the only version he cares to hear ever again.

  5. :) Indeed; she sounds like a loon.

    And please give Gator a kiss for me.

  6. [...] When divas fight (or who exactly owns that tired standard, “Meadowlark”?) [...]

  7. I like Patti Lupone but I think Betty Buckly is a far superior talent and far more emotive.


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