Two-time Tony Award winner Patti LuPone and I had a conversation about her upcoming performance of Coulda Woulda Shoulda coming up at George Mason University’s Arts by George on September 27th at The Center for the Arts. It’s a benefit for George Mason’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, and the money raised that night will help fund student scholarships and help fund future performances at George Mason University.
Joel: What will audiences be hearing and seeing when you appear on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, at 8 PM at George Mason University’s ARTS by George?
Patti: I am not going to tip the hat. The show is called Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda and it’s my life in the musical theatre. I am not going to say anymore.
How has the show changed since you first premiered it?
We have taken some songs out that we felt didn’t work, or get the response we wanted, and have added other songs.
What roles that you were offered and turned down do you wish you had taken?
That’s not an easy one because you want to forget about them. You don’t want to bring up memories of “Oh damn, I really should have done that.” I don’t think I have been offered that many roles that I turned down.
You have been really lucky…
I’m trying to remember when I turned a role down. Robert Altman offered me a role in Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean when he directed it on Broadway, but I was performing at the time in As You Like it at The Guthrie.
I have always questioned my choice of not doing Les Miserables on Broadway after doing it in London. And I have questioned other choices that I have made.
There was a season where I was offered the role of Mrs. Van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank and the role of Bea in A View From the Bridge, but I chose to do David Mamet’s The Old Neighborhood. You are always second-guessing your choices especially since there were an abundance of them that year. I was offered a role in a Michael Weller play, and I was offered a role in Extremities, but decided to reprise my role in David Mamet’s The Woods.
As for Broadway musicals – there was one with Stephen Sondheim – but that was because negotiations broke down. They wanted me to play the Witch in Into the Woods, and I wanted to play Cinderella.
What? You have got to be kidding. Why Cinderella?
Well, why not? They let me audition for Cinderella but they wanted me to play the witch. Then negotiations broke down. It broke my heart.
Well, you can’t complain.. you’ve done pretty well despite not getting that role.
You’re right. I have and I am thankful. But I wanted that role.
What roles that you were not offered do you wish you had been offered?
In the beginning of my career – I would have liked to have played Nellie Forbush in South Pacific. I would have loved to have played Ruth in Wonderful Town, and Desiree in the recent Broadway production of A Little Night Music that was directed by Trevor Nunn, (who never returneds my phone calls despite working with him twice. It’s extremely rude.)
I always think that I never get the roles I go after – so I don’t necessarily go after roles. I certainly don’t get them when I audition for them.
You get what you are supposed to get…
What comes to you is what you are supposed to do.
That’s really smart.
Are there any roles today on Broadway now that you would love to play?
I don’t think there is anything in musicals now that I would like to play.
But I had a meeting with André Bishop, (Producing Artistic Director of Lincoln Center Theater), and he said that this was ‘The Golden Age of American Playwrights.” I would like to do an original play.
You are doing ArtsSpeak sponsored by Shugoll Research the night before on Friday, September 26th at 7 PM at Blake HS in Silver Spring, Maryland. Why is it so important to bring these kinds of programs and other programs like it to the schools?
This government underestimates and underfunds programs for the Arts. It’s heartbreaking for me, especially music programs being cut in schools. That’s how I got where I was and where I am. I was a product of the public school music programs on Long Island. We had a strong music program where I learned how to read music and in the third grade I was playing cello. It was because it was part of the curriculum. It was as important as science and math. We learned how to read music and to play an instrument. And so it is so heartwarming and inspiring to me to see young children wanting to continue the tradition of musical theatre and/or anything in the arts. I am still glad that people are still playing instruments.
You and Mandy Patinkin made a stop at The Kennedy Center with your show An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. Will you be doing the show again this year and where?
Mandy is actually shooting Homeland right now in South Africa. When he gets back he needs a break. He wants to take some time to relax, and I cannot blame him. He’s incredible. He has the TV show, comes home and then goes on the road concertizing. And we need to come up with a new show since we have been doing this show for quite a while. Not that we are bored with it. But we need something new.
What do you think about DC audiences? Are they unique to you?
Audiences around the world are the same. We are made up of the same flesh and bones and our blood is red. What we do is universal. You will have the same reaction. The perfect example of that is: When Trevor Nunn came to us at The Royal Shakespeare Company before the first performance of Les Mis and he said, “And now I want you to know and want you to remember that you are in a musical. And people do not come to the Royal Shakespeare Company to see musicals and you will not receive the reaction in a musical you should tonight!” [Patti and I laugh loudly!]
We should have only invested in that loser!
It was brilliant. If you deliver and it touches an audience they are all going to respond that way-the same way.
I have found that people respond to good quality.
Yes, but everybody does. I will tell you that standing ovations are cheap in America and I won’t stand regardless of how good the performances are. There’s no distinction. All the audiences here feel,” Well I paid $150 or more for these tickets so I have to stand at the end- OR I am going to stand at the end because I spent $150 for these tickets.”
When was the last time you stood up at the end of a show?
Twelfth Night with Mark Rylance. Was that not the most magical night? It was what how I felt when I saw The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby – all 8 1/2 hours of it. It was so magical.
I stood up for Twelfth Night too!
Let’s talk about Elaine Stritch and Betty Bacall who passed away recently. What do you think their legacies will be?
I can’t answer that because I knew both of them in a different and personal way.
After you performed ‘The Ladies Who Lunch” in front of Elaine Stritch at The Sondheim Birthday Party, did she say anything to you about your interpretation?
Because I knew Elaine and I spent time with her and they wanted me to sing “The Ladies Who Lunch,” I thought it was a gas. I actually said to Lonny [Director Lonny Price], “Where will Elaine be?” And he said, “She will be in the first chair on the left.” And when I came to “Does anyone still wear a hat?” I turned to her. She left a message on my answering machine, and was so complimentary. She was great. She did say, “You have to be very careful about what you choose next Patti.” And I don’t know why she said that. And I respected her opinion. She didn’t say, “How dare you?” And she didn’t say, “Lovely job.” That’s a great compliment coming from Elaine. I mean – I didn’t do it the way she did it. And that’s not why she complimented me. And I didn’t shy away from doing it either. See what I mean?
I think you are right. She saw courage in your performance, especially performing it in front of her.
It wasn’t a tough one because I loved Elaine. I knew Elaine personally and I knew Elaine wasn’t going to be judging me. She was a very, very, very generous woman. She was very generous to her colleagues.
What would her legacy be? It’s going to be very complicated. There were many facets to Elaine. She will be remembered as one of the great “Dames of Broadway.” There are no dames left.
I just saw a group of talented kids at The Theatre Lab for the Dramatic Arts here in DC performing Evita. And now there is another National Tour about to stop at The Kennedy Center. Why do you think Evita still is being performed by so many theatres and schools 34 years after it opened on Broadway?
I think Evita is swarming around. She was once vilified and now she is glorified. Are you kidding? Now they are doing Here Lies Love about Imelda Marcos, which is the 80’s version of Evita. I am just convinced that Evita Peron is up there just swirling around. It keeps making me look good! Seriously, it’s a powerful piece of theater. I didn’t like the music. It wasn’t Meredith Wilson and it wasn’t Jule Styne. It wasn’t Stephen Sondheim. It was the weirdest music but over the years the music has become something that people want to perform. Every actor and actress and singer wants to play Evita and wants to play Che. And why not? They are great roles. If someone can sing it, God Bless her and God Bless him!
I don’t know how you vocally did it.
What do you want the audience to take with them after seeing Coulda Woulda Shoulda?
It’s up to them to come away with what they want to come away with. Hopefully, there will be a lot of laughter because it’s a funny show. It’s about how I ended up on the stage, and there will be a wonderful surprise.
Patti LuPone performs Shouda, Coulda, Woulda on Saturday, September 27, 2014, at 8 PM at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts – 4373 Mason Pond Drive, in Fairfax, VA 22030. For tickets, purchase them online. Here are directions and parking information.
Patti LuPone’s official website.
A chronology of Patti LuPone’s theater career.