Don’t judge a diva by her cover

Patti Lupone's memoir makes for great Tony weekend reading

After opening a gift from my husband late last year, I exchanged a knowing glance with my daughter Lizabeth. Think smirking, and rolling our eyes. It was the one book I’d never imagined myself reading. A memoir by legendary actress Patti LuPone. We’ve always considered her more of a diva, as if that was some kind of crime.

But on the eve of the 2011 Tony Awards, I find myself turning to the memoir with a newfound admiration for LuPone, who tells her own story with fluid writing and thought — plus grace, gratitude and humor. I like it. I see a lot of LuPone in Lizabeth, though it’s unlikely she’ll appreciate my saying so before she’s braved some time with the book for herself.

LuPone enjoyed early dance and piano lessons, caught the performing bug at the tender age of four, and hated most academic study with a passion. She played cello, took the laissez-faire approach to Juilliard auditions, and counted on a small group of teachers and mentors who really “got her.”

LuPone first performed the role of Rose in Gypsy in 2006 at the Ravina Festival (Photo: Patti LuPone website)

“A Memoir” by Patti LuPone would be wise summer reading for theater students eager to learn more about the craft of acting, the path to self-discovery and the means for avoiding so much folly along the way. The book will also interest breast cancer survivors, and those of us labeled “stage mother” by self or others.

LuPone’s own mother spent much of her time driving daughter Patti and twin boys Billy and Bobby to and fro. “My mother was not a stage mother in any respect,” writes LuPone. “Mom’s life force was driving us from one lesson to the next. If she was a stage mother, it manifest itself in her pride in her three kids.”

The final three chapters of LuPone’s memoir are devoted to her time with the musical “Gypsy.” She begins as follows: “Rose Hovick–Madame Rose–is commonly stigmatized as the mother of all stage mothers, but that’s not the woman I see.”

LuPone earned a 2008 Tony Award for her Broadway performance of Rose (Photo: Patti LuPone website)

“I see a woman,” write LuPone, who loves her daughters. She’s ferociously driven, but she loves her kids.” LuPone performed the role of Louise (“Gypsy”) as a 15 year old but admits she “didn’t pay any attention to the character of Rose.”

LuPone first played Rose in 2006, and went on to sweep all sorts of 2008 theater awards — including the Tony Award for best actress — for her portrayal of Rose in “Gypsy” on Broadway. “I know,” writes LuPone, that Gypsy will remain one of if not the best experiences I’ve ever had in my career.”

She’ll bring “The Gypsy in My Soul,” a collection of story and song, to Arizona next year — Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on March 3 and UA’s Centennial Hall in Tucson on March 4.

Get your tickets now. Read the book right after. Then mark your calendar for the Phoenix Theatre production of “Gypsy” — which runs March 7-April 1, 2012. I’d love to see LuPone extend her Arizona stay long enough to enjoy opening night.

The only thing better would be having LuPone in the house on April Fool’s Day. By her own admission, LuPone can be a bit reckless. LuPone says she loves to laugh, and it’s clear from even a cursory reading of her memoir that “mischief” could have been her middle name.

— Lynn

Note: Both LuPone and Laura Benanti are nominated for a 2011 Tony Award for “best performance by an actress in a featured role in a musical” for work in “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.”

Coming up: Feeling blue, Stage meets suffragette, What a difference a move makes

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