Royal Shakespeare Company Pioneer
Known equally well for her portrayal of Argentina’s Eva Peron in Evita and her role as the mother of a mentally challenged teenager in the television series Life Goes On, singer and actress Patti LuPone has proven her versatility as a performer. Her resume includes work on Broadway, performances with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and appearances in films and on television. She has received recognition for her achievements in the form of a Tony—in addition to three other nominations for the award—a Drama Desk Award, and a Laurence Olivier Award, the British equivalent of the Tony.
Patti LuPone grew up in a musical family. An amateur pianist and opera buff, her mother, Angela LuPone, named her for her great aunt, the famous soprano Adelina Patti. The young LuPone took private lessons in voice, piano, drama, and dance. With her two brothers she formed a dance troupe and performed locally. Her brother Robert also sang and danced and would go on to win a Tony for his role in A Chorus Line. In high school Patti played tuba in the marching band and cello in the orchestra and sang in both the madrigal group and concert choir. As she explained in an interview with Linda Winer for New York Newsday, she decided at a very early age that she wanted to perform: “[When I was four] I did a tap number [in a show], looked down at the audience and said, ‘Hey! They’re all smiling at me! I can do whatever I want!’ I was hooked... and [have] never looked back.”
After high school LuPone applied for admittance to the opera program at the Juilliard School but was not accepted. Her brother Robert, who was at Juilliard studying dance, convinced her to audition for the newly formed drama program under the direction of famed actor and director John Houseman. In 1968 she was admitted into the first class, and in 1972 she was one of only 14 students out of 36 who graduated on time.
Houseman organized the graduates into a professional repertory troupe called the Juilliard Acting Company, later called the City Center Acting Company, then simply the Acting Company. LuPone was a member of the troupe for several years. In 1975 she appeared with the company in an adaptation of Eudora Welty’s Robber Bridegroom and received a Tony nomination. After leaving the group in 1976, she performed primarily in musicals, including the 1976 Off-Broadway production of The Baker’s Wife, by David Merrick, as well as the Broadway production of David Mamet’s Water Engine and Studs Terkel’s Working, both in 1978.
Born April 21, 1949, in Northport, Long Island, NY; daughter of Orlando Joseph and Angela Louise (maiden name, Patti) LuPone; married Matt Johnston, 1988; children: Joshua Luke (born 1990). Education: Juilliard School, bachelor of fine arts degree in drama, 1972.
Member of the Juilliard Acting Company (later known as City Center Acting Company, then the Acting Company), 1972-76. Singer and actress appearing in Off-Broadway productions, including School for Scandal, 1972, The Woods, 1972, Next Time I’ll Sing to You, 1972, Lower Depths, 1972, The Beggar’s Opera, 1973, and The Baker’s Wife, 1976; in Broadway productions, including Three Sisters, 1973, Robber Bridegroom, 1975, Working, 1978, Catchpenny Twist, 1979, Evita, 1979-81, and Anything Goes, 1987; in motion pictures, including King of the Gypsies, 1978, 1941, 1980, Striking Back, 1981, Fighting Back, 1982, Cat’s Eye, 1985, Witness, 1985, Wise Guys, 1986, and Driving Miss Daisy, 1989; and on television shows, including Life Goes On, beginning in 1989.
Awards: Tony Award and Drama Desk Award, both 1980, both for Evita; Laurence Olivier Award, 1986, for Les Miserables; three Tony Award nominations.
Addresses: Agent —Gersh Agency Inc., 130 West 42nd Street, Suite 1804, New York, NY, 10036.
In 1979 LuPone won the role that thrust her into the national spotlight: that of the Argentine first lady Eva Peron in Evita, by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. From the initial 200 women who auditioned for the role, 30 finalists were chosen and all were asked to sing the same two songs from the show. When LuPone’s rendition of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” brought tears to the eyes of the audience, the producer, Harold Prince, hired her.
Prince’s decision surprised many, for such stars as Raquel Welch, Faye Dunaway, and Meryl Streep were said to have wanted the role. People announced, “Acting nobody Patti LuPone set her cap to be Evita and beat out Faye and Raquel.” The show opened in the spring of 1979 in Los Angeles and San Francisco and hit Broadway in the fall. While the show received mixed reviews, critics praised LuPone’s work. Walter Kerr commented in the New York Times, “Miss LuPone does sufficient justice to the score (almost everything is sung); but little justice is done her [by the show].” In the spring of 1980 she won both a Tony and a Drama Desk Award for best featured actress.
After two years LuPone decided she had been Eva Peron for long enough; she needed a rest and new roles. But her fame seemed to work against her and finding good parts was difficult. As she maintained in a New York Times interview, playing in Evita had typecast her: “Casting directors forget what you did in the past. They think I’m blond and much older, so unless they need a blond fascist dictator, I won’t get a call.” However, parts did eventually come her way, and while pleased with her work, she later lamented the lack of public response. “I did some of my best work after Evita but it wasn’t in the public eye, and it didn’t command a lot of notice, therefore I was nothing,” she informed David Sacks of the New York Times Magazine. Among her work from that period was a 1981 production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It and singing roles in such revivals as the 1937 musical The Cradle Will Rock, by Marc Blitzstein, in 1983 and Lionel Bart’s Oliver! in 1984. She also performed in a solo cabaret show that palyed at different New York supper clubs from 1980 to 1982 and met with disappointing reviews.
In 1985 LuPone won the role of Fantine in Les Miserables, by Claude-Michel Schonberg. Although her character dies early in the play, her performance—and the Laurence Olivier Award for best actress she received—bounced her back into the spotlight. She rejected the offer to reprise the role on Broadway, however, and did not join the American cast production. She elaborated on her decision in an interview for the New York Times Magazine: “I’m very possessive about my theatrical memories. Two weeks after I opened at the Barbican in London, I knew I couldn’t do it in New York. I was having a theatrical dream come true. I was with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the only American who has ever played a principal part, a fantastic part.... The issue was: I am a part of the English company.”
In 1987, director Jerry Zaks invited LuPone to audition for his revival of the 1934 Cole Porter musical Anything Goes. “I was struck by the fact that she was very upfront,” Zaks commented to the New York Times Magazine’s David Sacks. “She had vitality, a sense of humor, and a willingness to try things.” After the show opened in October of that year, critics agreed with his choice. As William A. Henry III declared in Time: “If Porter really were to lend approval, it would be chiefly for Patti LuPone. As nightclub belter Reno Sweeney, she rivals the role’s originator, Ethel Merman, in volume and clarity of voice, and far outdoes her in intelligence and heart.”
After leaving the cast of Anything Goes LuPone moved to Los Angeles to pursue television work “because there is so little work in New York now, and an actor has to go where the work is,” she disclosed to a correspondent for the New York Times. In the fall of 1989 she joined the series Life Goes On, portraying the mother in a family that includes a teenage boy with Down Syndrome. Her character, a Broadway singer who gave up the stage to raise a family, still performs for some private and public occasions, giving LuPone occasional singing opportunities.
Patti LuPone is, as writer David Sacks noted in the New York Times Magazine, “a born performer, extroverted, impetuous. And mischievous—you sense in her a wayward enthusiasm that can hardly be contained.” But she is uncomfortable with the trappings of fame and success. She recounted to Sacks in the same article, “During Evita I was constantly harassed—by my dance captain, my wardrobe mistress, and everyone else—to dress up. I was a star. There is an illusion you’re expected to present. But I don’t feel easy with that, because I don’t think it’s my responsibility to [be what I am not.]” She did admit in an interview for Harper’s Bazaar, however, that fame has some advantages: “It does get you seated at the best restaurants.”
While she is certainly successful in television, she may eventually go back to the musical stage. “I’ll be able to retire from the theater,” she proclaimed in Harper’s Bazaar, “when I can finally sing in a Steven Sondheim musical that is directed by Harold Prince. That is my ultimate dream.”
Evita, MCA, 1979.
Les Miserables, First Night Records, 1985.
Anything Goes, RCA, 1988.
Harper’s Bazaar, April 1982.
New York Newsday, October 18, 1987.
New York Times, March 2, 1979; September 26, 1979; October 7, 1979; June 8, 1980; June 23, 1980; February 28, 1980; March 3, 1980; October 27, 1985; October 20, 1987; October 22, 1987; January 19, 1992.
New York Times Magazine, January 24, 1988.
People, August 6, 1979; September 11, 1989.
Time, October 21, 1985; November 2, 1987; October 16, 1989; December 3, 1990.
Born: Northport, New York, 21 April 1949
Best-selling album since 1990: Heatwave (1995)
Aleading Broadway stage performer of the 1980s and 1990s, Patti LuPone is a versatile singer whose torchy style encompasses rock, pop, and jazz. Infusing her performances with her larger-than-life personality, LuPone conveys a winning mixture of tartness and vulnerability. Her voice is powerful and wide-ranging, moving effortlessly from a rich bellow to a breathy soprano. A skilled actress, she is adept at shifting the dramatic emphasis within a song, altering the texture of her voice to communicate a breadth of emotional experience.
Descended from Adelina Patti, a popular opera singer of the 1880s, LuPone began performing at the age of four. In 1972 she graduated from the prestigious Juilliard School of Drama in New York, where she gained solid training in drama as well as musical theater. In 1979 LuPone created the role for which she remains best known, that of glamorous Argentine ruler Eva Peron in Evita, a musical written by hit Broadway composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. LuPone's charismatic performance, highlighted by her yearning treatment of the song, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," won Broadway's annual Tony Award in 1980. In 1985 she starred in the original London production of the musical Les Miserables, belting one of the show's stand-out numbers, "I Dreamed a Dream," with heart-rending conviction.
Although she spent the late 1980s and early 1990s acting in the television drama "Life Goes On," LuPone returned to the stage in the London production of Lloyd Webber's musical Sunset Boulevard (1993), based on the classic 1950 film of the same name. Portraying faded movie star Norma Desmond, LuPone found an aching humanity beneath the character's bravado, transforming the show's finest song, "As if We Never Said Goodbye," into a beguiling treatise on the lingering power of fame. Unfortunately, LuPone's triumph was short-lived: After the show received mostly negative reviews from American critics, Lloyd Webber replaced her with film star Glenn Close for the Broadway opening in 1994. Although recalling that she was "deeply burned" in a 1997 interview with the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph, she rebounded, performing a one-woman show on Broadway in 1995 and appearing in several films. In 1995 she recorded Heatwave, a live album with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.
In 1999 LuPone released Matters of the Heart, her first in-studio, as opposed to live, recording. Tackling a diverse array of material, she is alternately sensitive and comedic, contemplative and raucous. On "Shattered Illusions," for example, she details the disappointments of love in boisterous fashion: "But the thing that caused the final rift / Was when his toupee started to drift." Her rendition of "Air That I Breathe," on the other hand, is subtle and direct, bearing a winning simplicity absent from the hit 1974 version by pop group the Hollies. The album's restrained moments, such as the tender "My Son," evince the depth of LuPone's artistic maturation. On the more aggressive numbers, such as a belting treatment of composer Stephen Sondheim's "Not a Day Goes By," she tends to slur the words, her brassy delivery carrying a nasal ring. Nonetheless, even when singing too fervently she succeeds on the strength of her personality. In 2001 LuPone returned to Broadway in a nonmusical role, performing in the farcical play Noises Off.
Patti LuPone's expressive dramatic range and finely honed acting skills contributed to some of the most memorable musical theater portrayals of the 1980s and 1990s. While known for her forcefulness and humor, beginning in the late 1990s she revealed a softer, more introspective side, infusing an eclectic repertoire with subtle intelligence.
Patti LuPone Live (RCA Victor, 1993); Heatwave (Philips, 1995); Matters of the Heart (LayZLay, 1999).