I saw Patti LuPone spill tea for three hours, and lived to tell the tale

Credit: Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune

I tried to hold myself back.  I really did.

Out of the two shows presented Monday evening as part of Steppenwolf’s “Lookout” series, I very reasonably bought tickets for the late show, starting at 9 p.m. Mainly because the earlier show was sold out (or so I was told), and also because of a goal I made for 2018: Demonstrate restraint.

But as the day approached, I suddenly found myself sweaty and nervous in the Steppenwolf lobby buying a last-minute ticket to said show — not unlike some junkie awaiting a long-overdue fix.

Yes. The FOMO forcibly kicked in, and I realized it would be insane of me NOT to get tickets to see my favorite performer doing her thing, twice. “And,” as I told my rationale brain, “this isn’t a typical concert. Patti will sing different things each show.”

And, I’m here to tell you: Each show was vastly different. Seth Rudetsky — who not only possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of musical theatre, but can seemingly play every musical ever on piano with ease — is the perfect host for these kinds of shows.

I mean, as much as I love the carefully curated cabaret shows where our theatre divas career through their careers with carefully scripted dialogue, Seth sidesteps all of that. Instead, he offers a breezy, chatty 90 minutes where theatre divas talk about their trials and triumphs in unscripted interview style, and when the muse strikes, Seth runs over to the piano and the diva sings along. Sometimes it requires sheet music and glasses with a few wrong notes and lyrics, but that’s the fun.

And perhaps no diva of the stage is more suited to the task than Patti LuPone. At nearly 70, the woman’s voice is a marvel. Her lower register packs a punch, and she still hits those high notes — albeit more artfully through mixing and head voice. And the woman likes a challenge, to put it mildly.

Whatever Seth throws her way, she’s able AND game.

So, sometimes she’ll mix up “brunch” and “crunch” when singing about those ladies who lunch, but WHO CARES? She’s THROWING A DRINK AT YOU RIGHT NOW!!

Ah, how I wish I’d sat in the “splash section.”

And it’s not just her voice that doesn’t hold back — she also spills some major T, as the kids say.

She knows and embraces her reputation — and revels in it. With any other performer, it would come across as petty score settling. And in some ways, it can feel that way. But mostly, the way she tosses off a candid remark about a former costar, director or production with an F bomb and a cackle, you can’t help but marvel at her singularity. She truly gives no f*cks.

So – what did Loops cover in the two 90-minute shows I witnessed? Here’s the rundown…

Songs (not a comprehensive list):

  • Meadowlark
  • Don’t Rain on My Parade
  • Some People
  • Everything’s Coming Up Roses
  • Don’t Cry For Me Argentina*
  • Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking (SO HAPPY I could hear this one live)
  • Ladies Who Lunch (with drink toss) **
  • Trouble**
  • Invisible**
  • Sleepy Man*
  • Old Fashioned Wedding*
  • I Dreamed a Dream
  • My Way
  • As Long As He Needs Me
  • Final encore of show two: Buenos Aries*

*Original key
**Both shows

To reiterate – she sang “Buenos Aries” as her FINAL ENCORE of the SECOND SHOW in the ORIGINAL KEY.

The woman is a MACHINE.

Also, some of the dish:

  • Nancy Opel: Loves her.
  • Her Evita alternate: Does not love her and doesn’t care who knows it.
  • Her time on Evita: You name it – she wasn’t supported, couldn’t sing the score, her director left her to her own devices, etc. etc.
  • This one is new to me: She had some very choice things to say about a certain costar from the 2001 revival of Noises Off. Specifically, this person consistently stepped on LuPone’s laugh line on a nightly basis, which LuPone remarked was about them “bringing their petty, insecure sh*t to the theatre” — and before she revealed too much, Seth ran to the piano to move her along. I’ll let y’all guess who this might be — I have my thoughts…
  • Gypsy:  Arthur’s partner of 50 years “made him do it to keep him alive,” which triggered Patti to nearly sob with emotion.
  • She feels War Paint and Gypsy were the only theatrical experiences where the cast “worked as one” under a strong director. (Neveryoumind she said the same thing about the John Doyle revival of Sweeney when she starred in it in 2005. In fact, it’s strange to me how little she talks about that production these days.)
  • Topol, who costarred with her in The Baker’s Wife: Apparently such a horrible human that the cast collectively went to Equity to file a grievance.
  • Trump, and her viral moment: “That reporter was the second guy on the red carpet, and he asks me THAT? What else was I supposed to say?”
  • The sitcom Mom: She’s guest starring with “an Oscar winner!” and wasn’t aware that the show was a live-audience sitcom because, well, she’s never seen it.
  • She made a reference to a bidet (don’t ask) that made ME blush. I won’t repeat it here.
  • The gender-bendy Company revival she’s starring in in London later this year: She went on record saying she’d never do a musical again, so when director Marianne Elliott called her to star as Joanne, she said no. Multiple times. But then her own case of FOMO kicked in, and she realized that Elliott was “a true visionary.” So, she’s doing it.
  • Her recent Grammy performance: First, when she was asked to perform on the telecast, she was floored. She asked, with a laugh: “Does Andrew know?” followed quickly with: “and if he doesn’t, don’t tell him!” She also knew she was doing a song that would, frankly, be drag in the telecast, so she had concerns. It was out of context, it’s a slow song, and it was late in the evening. At dress rehearsal, she saw that Bruno Mars’s seat filler was in front of her, so she decided she’d play to him. But on show night, when the curtain went up, Bruno wasn’t there, and all she saw was a sea of disinterested people on their phones, having conversations, etc. So, she said “fuck ’em” and gave the second stanza of the song more power.
  • Her vocal cords: After she lost her voice for a month in the early ’90s following Sunset, a doctor cauterized the blood vessels around her vocal cords which she credits — along with rehabilitation coaching from Joan Lader (who “costs a LOT”) –to not only saving her voice, but letting her sing better than ever before. And, boy, does she sound great.

One thought on “I saw Patti LuPone spill tea for three hours, and lived to tell the tale

  1. Thank You for this! I saw this show in NYC but as you say, it is always different because Patti has such a depth of knowledge , stories and humor! I love her! She is a true treasure and in these times times I truly need her talent and her humor and her indignation at who we call our president…heaven help us….

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