Things I learned reading Patti LuPone’s memoir: a fan’s perspective

To say I’m a fan of Patti LuPone’s would be an understatement. Sixteen years ago, I happened upon a record (the vinyl kind) of the 1987 cast recording of Anything Goes where she starred as the sassy Reno Sweeney. I quickly wore that record out, and this thin, dorky high schooler was hooked.

I’ve since followed her career closely, catching her in numerous concerts and performances, reading countless articles, and collecting the recordings. I bought her a martini once. I even established a “LuPone” Google news alert, which sends daily news bites about the two time Tony winner to my email (shut up).

And now, with the release of her new tell-all book, “Patti LuPone: A Memoir,” that news alert is working overtime. She’s promoting it hardcore — even appearing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

While I (of course) was curious to hear what the lady herself had to say about things such as the Sunset Boulevard debacle, or her experiences working with Arthur Laurents in Gypsy, I also wanted to discover things I didn’t already know about this colorful and deeply opinionated artist.

So, rather than writing a review (snore), I’m going to highlight things that jumped out at me as a long-time fan:

Her ego is bigger, and more fragile, than I ever imagined. She attempts to make us believe she has a “fuck it” attitude toward showbusiness, but she’s really just a big ball of neediness and insecurity. There are so many examples I could draw from. If you’re LuPone’s understudy, you better kiss her feet after she gives you the opportunity to go on. And don’t you dare to give a performance that surpasses hers (I’m talking to you, Terri Klausner). And she essentially accuses the lovely Randy Graff of stealing her interpretation of Fantine (Graff took over the role in Les Misérables on Broadway when LuPone, who originated it in London, turned it down). And it’s not really clear in her book if LuPone actually even saw Graff’s performance.

My favorite part is when she talks about how she didn’t feel she was getting the applause she wanted when she took her bow in Evita, and then she adapted her performance to get a bigger hand. This just seemed off-putting to me — like her performance was only valid if the audience went ape shit. This comes after she spends the first quarter of the book extolling the virtues of her trial-by-fire training at Julliard and how she eventually learned as an actor that her “only obligation is to serve the text.” Sure, but it also sounds like her ego needed serving as well.

She loves to point a finger: The Sunset chapters in the book are a great read. She clearly was treated like crap. However, as much as she tries to explain to the reader, I still don’t understand why Glenn Close was ever obligated to call her and wish her well in her run as Norma Desmond. [For those who don’t know, Andrew Lloyd Webber famously, and humiliatingly, broke LuPone’s contract stating she was to open the role on Broadway (after having premiered the role in London for a year) in favor of the more commercially safe Glenn Close. This devestated LuPone. She went on Prozac. It nearly ruined her marraige.]

She had breast cancer in 2001: Wow. Total news to me! Glad she’s ok.

Theatre awards mean the world to her: She lost the Tony three times in her career, and you’d think it was like someone stole them from her and then crapped in her lap as a consolation prize. She isn’t shy about telling us how upset she was following her Tony loss in Anything Goes. “It was a bad night for me,” she says. (Her poor husband.) She then tells us in the next paragraph how she started getting bored and bitter performing in the show, and it ultimately became a negative experience. It’s amazing that she doesn’t realize how ridiculous and unprofessional she comes across here — you lost the Tony, so now you don’t care. Again: isn’t your only obligation to serve the text? Not to win awards?

She reads her reviews: Not only does she read them, she memorizes them, digests them, lets them fester and then saves them in scrap books.

She thanks a lot of people in her book, but know who she forgets to thank? Her fans. Please, someone, correct me if I’m wrong here, but not once does she thank those people who spend hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars to see her onstage. I mean, without the fans, where would she get that applause she so desperately wants? A mention in the back of the lengthy list of acknowledgements would have been nice. We are the ones who bought her book, after all.

In short, I found it an infuriating, fascinating and entertaining read. Does it change my opinion of her? Not really. It confirmed my suspicions.

However, I now know she had crabs in the early ’70s. (Read the book).

15 thoughts on “Things I learned reading Patti LuPone’s memoir: a fan’s perspective

  1. “you’d think it was like someone stole them from her and then crapped in her lap as a consolation prize.” Bob. Brilliant. Love this!

  2. Ahh i can’t wait to read this! I honestly don’t give a toss about her teen years or childhood, though. I want Sunset, Gypsy and Anything Goes in between!

  3. Agreed w/ much of what was said!

    I am still in the Sunset Boulevard chapter, and man, I am engrossed. The writing is not the best, and I think she’s also trying to be funny…but it comes out forced. It’s definetly something, and as much as I love Patti, she really is a Diva. Gotta love her, though.

    1. Hi, Tyler. Thanks for commenting. Those “Sunset” chapters could have been a book unto themselves.

      And I totally agree about the writing. Clunky, disorganized and forced.

  4. “Sometimes when the wrappings fall,
    There’s nothing underneath at all.”

    That’s pretty much how I felt. There were a couple of revelations, some amusing anecdotes but it was mostly a one woman pity parade. Poorly written (or I assume ghostwritten) and in some cases she lets us know far too much.

  5. Worked with her and was blown away by the insecurity. I mean she’s Patti freakin’ LuPone! Who is going to be a threat at a regional theatre? I pitied her understudy the entire time!

  6. Yeah, I pretty much agree with everyone else. Lots of kvetching, lots of score-settling. For someone who’s spent her entire adult life as an actress she’s rarely seemed to enjoy the experience. It seems to have been a tough slog, lots of time away from home, dealing with clueless directors and devious producers. Everyone always trying to cheat her or make her life difficult.

    And there’s one particular mental image of John Houseman that will haunt me forever!

    I first knew Patti LuPone from the TV series Life Goes On and at the time, I was only vaguely aware that she was a musical theatre performer. I think I vaguely knew she’d been in Evita. So a lot of the details of her early career were new to me. It was a good read and overall, I enjoyed it.

  7. Get the audiobook. Narrated by none other than the lady herself. I’m telling you, between the over-aggressive diction and her impersonations of the English (pretty wretched), it’s HIGH-LARIOUS. And, to be fair, it actually comes across far less snarly. For someone who prefers to read the transcripts of speeches versus hearing them, or opting to analyze the text of shows, I really am enjoying this (two years later, I know, but still).

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