Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Book Review: A Memoir by Patti Lupone

It's a wonder I did not pick up this memoir by Broadway legend Patti Lupone when it was first released last year. I happen to see it on the shelf at my local bookstore. I picked it up and began reading one of the chapters about her experience in the musical 'Sunset Boulevard'. I could not put it down and purchased the book.

Lupone is very candid and pulls no punches when she describes how she feels about the good and bad people and events in her life. The book is neatly organized by chapters in reference to plays and musicals in which she has performed. I basically read the chapters out of sequence as I wanted to know her story regarding the events that lead to her firing from the Broadway production of 'Sunset' in the role of Norma Desmond which she created in the London premiere of the musical:

"Andrew Lloyd Webber continued to be an unmitigated coward. He didn't have the balls to tell me in person; when the news broke, he sent flowers but no apology. Then he sent two of the most delusional letters I've ever read and which I actually tossed in the garbage, then pulled out and saved. I wanted to reprint them here, but though the letters were sent to me, incredibly, I don't have the legal right to reproduce them without approval from Andrew Lloyd Webber. So without reprinting them, I can still give you the gist."

She reveals the difficult choices made in her life professionally and personally. One such decision was her choice not to repeat the role of Fantine in the musical 'Les Miserables' on Broadway for which she won an Olivier Award in London:

"I'm in the perfect theatrical experience. I'm in a perfect musical with a perfect company in a perfect environment. I can't play this in New York. It would never be the same. This is my company and my experience. All a stage actor has is his or her performance and the memory of it. I didn't want anything to touch that memory."

In the chapter about her role in the ill-fated musical 'The Baker's Wife', Lupone fully reveals the drama behind the scenes on the difficult pre-Broadway tour. Up to then, Lupone often made fun of the experience in concerts before she sang the show's most memorable number, "Meadowlark.":

"...we were still rehearsing by day and performing at night. Bad word of mouth spreads faster than good -- our audiences were tiny and getting smaller by the day. The decline in the audiences matched the decline in the show itself -- it was a long way down from playing the sold-out Dorothy Chandler pavilion in Los Angeles. Finally at a matinee at the Kennedy Center in D.C., we set a house record for the least-attended show in the history of the place: We had 25 people in a 2,700-seat house. These people didn't' have the good sense to get into one row. All we saw was a sea of red."

The book is informative to those wanting to learn about the making of musicals but from the unique perspective of Lupone. Every one of her plays and musicals are covered: "Evita," the 1984 revival of "Oliver", the 2008 revival of "Gypsy" and more. The book is filled with many photographs from her career.

If you are lucky enough to find Lupone's 1993 two-disc recording "Live!", the songs from her career on stage and her introductions to the songs make this CD a perfect companion to the book.

The hardcover copy is no longer in print. Currently available in paperback and audio editions. A Kindle download version is also available.


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