Friday, September 14, 2012

Book Review: Patti LuPone: A Memoir

[Editor’s note] I finally finished Patti LuPone’s memoir this week. I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me a whole summer to do so, but whatta ride it was! I thoroughly enjoy biographies and Ms. LuPone’s extraordinary life made for an excellent read.

For the unfortunate few who may not know who she is, Patti LuPone is the award-winning actress of stage and screen who famously originated the role of Eva Perón in Broadway’s Evita. She was also Fantine in the original London cast of Les Misérables, Mrs. Lovett in the 2006 Sweeney Todd revival, and (my personal favorite!) Mama Rose in the 2008 Arthur Laurents-directed revival of Gypsy.

She is, to put it simply, a living legend.

Having been in show business for over four decades, Ms. Lupone’s memoir is a veritable tell-all account of a career replete with soaring highs and devastating lows. She discusses the challenges of being a student actress at Julliard and the hardships of being a working actress on the road. She talks candidly about the stardom and struggles that came with Evita (admitting that it “was the worst experience of [her] life”). And she dishes on difficult actors and directors who at times made her question her talent and reach for the Prozac. Indeed, LuPone is at her literary best when she’s being honest—both about herself and about others.

At no point in the memoir is LuPone more brutally honest than when discussing Andrew Lloyd Webber. For those who don't know, he once famously and humiliatingly fired her.

Let me give you the back story: Lloyd Webber and LuPone first worked together during her successful run of Evita. They reunited in 1993 when he picked her (reportedly over Meryl Streep) to originate the role of Norma Desmond in his musical production of Sunset Boulevard. Unfortunately, she had a difficult time with the show (none of it her fault, of course). A year later, Lloyd Webber opened a production of the show in L.A., garnering rave reviews for Glenn Close in the role. Although she was signed to play the faded star in the London and Broadway runs, LuPone was abruptly fired (she found out in a gossip column!) by Lloyd Webber. Glenn Close went on to open the show on Broadway and LuPone went on to sue the hell out of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Now ::pauses for dramatic emphasis:: to say that Patti LuPone was and remains bitter about all this is a gross understatement. Despite a reportedly BIG settlement, LuPone lets Lloyd Webber have it in page after page of her book. It’s tantamount to throwing his reputation on the ground, running it over with a steamroller, and then backing up over it for good measure. Even Glenn Close gets thrown under a bus. It is almost Mommie Dearest-esc in scope and I ate it up!

It wasn’t all sour grapes though. The last part of the memoir recounts her experiences with Steven Sondheim and the late Arthur Laurents. LuPone talks a great deal about wanting to work with Sondheim and finally getting the chance to do so in various Sondheim productions, including Sweeney Todd under John Doyle’s direction. This was the production where the actors were the band—LuPone played the tuba! The memoir comes full circle when she talks about making amends with Laurents and finding her own version of Mama Rose, a play she starred in as a kid in Long Island.

Patti LuPone: A Memoir leaves no stone unturned and no seed unsewn. At times, it reads like an advice manual for new actors while at other times it seems like the diary of an angry Great White Way diva. She was nice to some and a bitch to others. She burned bright and got burned in equal measure. She laughed and cried and took Prozac a lot. But what comes across most throughout LuPone’s life is the colorful and deeply opinionated creation that makes her a true artiste.

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