Monthly Archives: December 2010

Patti LuPone, Part II: “Don’t Give Critics the Power”

A big difference between books and theater, as Broadway star Patti LuPone points out in her enlightening and instructive memoir (Crown; 324 pages; $25.99), is the fact that in publishing it takes an accumulation of negative reviews to damn a book; in theater, one review can kill a play overnight.

Here’s one reason: With books, the Internet has ushered in our current era of “the democratization of publishing” in which everybody’s a critic. True, traditional critics at newspapers and magazine may still be influential, but readers give as much or more weight to reviews by bloggers, customers, book clubs and, of course, themselves.

Theater criticism, on the other hand, has remained more parochial and elitist. A handful of trusted reviewers still seems to reign, and among these few, for Broadway shows especially, the New York Times has inordinate power.

Fighting Back

LuPone is both victim and victor to this oddly provincial tendency. She has even been doubly damned: Despite her incredible talent and wildly favorable notices in Europe, LuPone has been the subject of hostile critics in New York not just for a few years but for entire decades.

This forced LuPone to re-earn audience regard every time she appeared onstage. For example, thanks to early publicity, tickets for Evita, her first big hit, were sold out so far in advance that LuPone and her co-star Mandy Patinkin had to outlast the sour impact of New York critics who hated her performance. This surprised even LuPone: Continue reading

Patti LuPone: A ShowBiz Memoir to Remember

She is probably the last of the great Broadway musical stars, certainly has the loudest (and funniest) wit, couldn’t be more honest (or complaining) and, with her trademark honesty and bawdy humor, has a heart and a funnybone as big as the Great White Way.

All of which to say that while actor/singer/comic/tuba player Patti LuPone sails through her memoir bringing one skeleton after another out of the closet from New York to Hollywood to London, we readers get to chuckle and wonder in wow-I-didn’t-know-that delight all along.

Who knew, for example, that centuries ago, opera singers canceled performances at the peak of their menstrual cycle because blood would so engorge their vocal cords that they could blow a singing gasket, as it were, that would render them silent for days and weeks afterward.

The great Jessye Norman told LuPone this, but too late: Following disastrous vocal blowouts (especially during Evita previews because that !@#$%^&! Andrew Lloyd Webber wouldn’t lower the register but more about that below), LuPone — one of Broadway’s most powerful and versatile singers — had to have surgery and learn how to sing all over again. Continue reading