What a night! Sunday September 24 was one incredible night: I did a show with Patti LuPone on Broadway for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS called Deconstructing Patti and, boy, she did not disappoint. It was on the stage of the Nederlander where she’s doing War Paint and we had a piano and two chairs set up for Patti to sing her greatest hits while I harassed her for inside stories.
A few days before the concert Patti texted me that she wanted to protect her voice. She was nervous about all the songs I was suggesting she have prepared because they were all in the originals keys and basically all 11 o’clock numbers. I texted back that I understood and suggested a few songs she might want to cut. Of course, as soon as I said that she texted that she felt the audience would really wanna hear those particular songs. Then I said we could take a few down a step. She wrote back “I guess…or just keep them in the original key.” I love that she strongly took a stand…and then her desire to give an amazing show completely overrode it. Brava! She did, however, say she didn’t want to sing anything from Sunset Boulevard to respect Glenn Close. More on that later.
So, people online have asked for a song list, so here it is with some comments about the actual experience:
First, Patti made the opening offstage announcement, particularly emphasizing to turn off ALL cell phones! After that, let’s just say there wasn’t a data plan in the house. I came out and immediately told the audience I had just gotten a new suit from Century 21 and had it altered the day before. I put it on for the first time around ten minutes before the show and realized the tailor actually took my waist in. O. M. G. I warned everyone I was going to look extremely uncomfortable for the entire show..and I was. I then announced Patti who came out to an enormous amount of applause. She loves to be surprised about what songs we’re going to do so she stood at the mic waiting to hear an intro.
I said, “Patti! You should stay home!” She took a moment to understand what I was referring to…and then immediately said “AHA!” She launched into the recitation of her line “Anybody who stays at home is dead!”—the start of the cue line for “Some People” from Gypsy. She did the entire song and it sounded fantastic. We then sat down to chat and talked about her youth. She told everyone she wanted to be a rock singer but knew she would end up on Broadway. She shook her head and told people to “imagine a rock singer with my vibrato.” It ended by me bringing up her first big musical in New York, which was also her first Tony nomination: The Robber Bridegroom.
She performed “Sleepy Man” and I sang the back up from the piano. What a moment for me. She did the whole last section of the song looking straight at me and I just kept thinking “I would have passed out if I had known as a 13-year-old that not only would I meet Patti one day, but I would singing with her…on Broadway!” (P.S. After the show, I was chatting with Tina Fey who told me she had wanted to request the obscure “Sleepy Man.” Little did she know her wish would be fulfilled by the second song.)
Then I brought up the revival of Oliver! and this is where Patti introduced one of the themes of the night: doing revivals and the creative team making people recreate what the original actor did…A.K.A. not allowing the new actor to make it their own. Patti says she doesn’t mean the line or blocking won’t wind up the same way as the original, but the new actor needs to figure out for themselves why a movement is done or a line is read a certain way. In the case of this show, it was even worse because they made her sing all the songs in the original Georgia Brown keys—who I call the British Bea Arthur. In truth, she didn’t sing quite as low, but she sang was way lower than Patti’s voice. The team insisted Patti keep the key of “As Long As He Needs Me” and then after the show opened she met composer-lyricist Lionel Bart and he told she could have sung it any she wanted! UGH! Then, at the Nederlander, she then sang it…in her key!
Then we talked about Les Misérables and how, as soon as she heard the opening phrase to the French recording, she knew it would be a hit. She sang “I Dreamed A Dream” for us and after she finished, she said reluctantly “I used to belt that note” referring to “So different now from what it seemed.” I then got up from my chair, went back to the piano, and made her do it again and belt it. She did and the audience went wild!
Then she told the story about being in her dressing room in London during Les Miz and turning off the intercom that allows you to hear the show and follow along. She was reading the Madonna issue of Details magazine, and she lost track of time and wound up completely forgetting her final entrance as ghost Fantine. By the time she got to the stage, she missed most of it and joined Frances Ruffelle in their final duet. I then told the audience to listen to how long Patti wasn’t onstage and played just the orchestral accompaniment while she narrated running down the stairs, throwing her wig on frantically and arriving onstage with no mic! Yes, she had to lean into dying Jean Valjean’s body mic to be heard.
I then got to the duet part of the song and said, “She arrived in time to see a startled Frances Ruffelle” and there on the Nederlander stage: Frances Ruffelle, herself, came on! When the audience realized it was the original Eponine they went crazy! She and Patti sang their final beautiful harmony (“Come with me…where chains will never bind you..”) and I segued into the end of “On My Own,” which Frances sang in her signature Eponine style. Afterwards, everyone went crazy…and Patti was crying!
Speaking of Frances, she now lives in New York and, therefore, has a show called “Frances Ruffelle Lives in New York” and you can see it Sunday, October 8 at The Green Room 42! Get tickets at TheGreenRoom42.com.
Patti and I next chatted about Anything Goes and about how she was allowed to find her version of Reno Sweeney, which definitely had a very sexy subtext. According to Patti, lyrics like “I’m good by day and I’m good by night” mean just one thing: #GoodInTheSack. I told everyone how obsessed I was with the recording of the Lincoln Center Theater production and that I wanted to her and Howard McGillin to sing “You’re The Top.” And out came Howard McGillin to sing it!
As soon as the song ended, I told Patti not to sit down and told her to do a certain song that exemplified her theory that men got all the best roles on Broadway. I clarified that by saying her statement was true…in the old days! Now we have Dolly and Mame and Annie and Elphaba and Fanny Brice and Charity and Evita etc. Regardless, she knew what I was referring to and immediately launched into a lyric perfect version of “Trouble” with the audience singing all the back up!
Finally, I got to Evita. She told everyone how hard it was to sing that score and how it laid out every Evita who did it…to the point where Australian Evita was so vocally fried she never sang again! Regardless, I asked Patti to fry her voice one more time and do “High Flying Adored.” To join her, I brought out the Che from the National Tour in the late ’90s…Raúl Esparza! He, too, spoke about having to imitate the original with no subtext. At one point during rehearsal for the tour, he was told to turn from the audience and raise his hands all the way up. ”Why?” he asked. Because that’s what Mandy Patinkin did. But why am I doing it, he asked. The answer was a rather sassy, “You’re bringing in the set.” Excellent. Raúl sang it (sounding as good as ever) and then Patti joined in…in the original key! I brought up Peter Marinos who was the original “hair!” in “Rainbow High” (as in the phrase “eyes, hair, mouth, figure”) and he sang backup while Patti sang “Rainbow High…again, in the original key. Holy cow!
Who came out next, you ask? Why, her current co-star Christine Ebersole! I immediately asked about any mishaps in War Paint and Christine told us that just recently there was a doozy. During the final scene, when their characters finally meet, Patti’s brooch broke. And the brooch is covered in many, many pearls. And those pearls started to fall onto the stage. Not all at once, but as punctuations to each line. As Christine described it, it was:
Line (pearl, pearl, pearl, pearl!)
Then Patti (as Helena Rubenstein) is supposed to say she knows the ingredients in one of Elizabeth Arden’s (Christine’s) signature make-up. After describing a list of obscure ingredients, Christine added “And lots of mother of pearl!” Brava! Then they both belted out “Face To Face” with composer (and brilliant pianist) Scott Frankel playing.
Finally, Patti spoke about her desire to make War Paint her very last musical. She qualified by adding “Til the next one!” She did, however, say it’s getting harder and harder to do eight shows a week because musical performers are athletes and her body is giving her trouble. As a matter of fact, she was limping because she has to get a hip replacement. The good news is: She’s gearing up for London next spring to star as Joanne in Company. It’s a gender switch version with a female Bobby. And instead of Joanne wanting to sleep with Bobby, Joanne wants Bobby to sleep with her husband. Holy Indecent Proposal!
Patti “ended” the show with a brilliant version of “Ladies Who Lunch” (in her key!). I say “ended” because after tumultuous applause, she came back out.
I told the audience about Nic Gibney who sent me an email a few years ago when he was playing Magaldi on the U.K. tour of Evita and would love to perform “Eva and Magaldi” with Patti if she was willing. I asked Patti, who I know hadn’t sung it since 1982…and she said yes! When we scheduled this concert, I emailed Nic and asked if he would fly himself to New York and do this benefit on Broadway. Now, Nic is in Annie in England, but got the days off and used the money from his recent tax refund to fly here. When we rehearsed an hour before the show, he not only flipped out about singing on a Broadway stage for the first time, but because Che was going to be played by Raúl Esparza! Raúl came out again and the three of them sang up a storm. Not surprisingly, Patti stopped the show when she got to “Screw the middle classes!” phrase, which includes a belted F.
Then after the song, we immediately segued to “Buenos Aires” and the audience went wild. Patti and I were about to go to our dressing rooms and they kept cheering. We came back out and were trying to think what to do. I was searching through music and heard someone yell out “Sunset Boulevard!” Well, just because Patti said she didn’t want to sing it didn’t mean I hadn’t brought the music! Patti solemnly told everyone that she didn’t want to perform anything from that show out of respect for Glenn. She said that Glenn owned the Broadway version and she owned the London version. (Pause) She would, therefore, sing the London version! #Werk! She sang “With One Look” and the show ended with her crazily high belted—with no breath in between—“I’ll be MEEEEEEEE!” and it was the end of one of the most amazing nights for me ever! (Watch a video of her singing it here.)
Quick updates about the future: The Hartford edition of Concert For America just confirmed that James and I will be co-hosting with…Matthew Broderick! He always makes me laugh so much so I know there will be his hilarious signature dryness throughout the show…plus he’s going to be hauling out a song! We also have Fun Home stars Judy Kuhn and Beth Malone, amazing dancer Maurice Hines, Waitress and Glee star Jenna Ushkowitz and so much more! Get tickets at ConcertsForAmerica.com.
Next week, I go to L.A. to work on the 50th anniversary of one of my favorite TV shows ever: The Carol Burnett Show! Details next week! Speaking of favorite TV shows, when I’m in L.A. I’m going to visit the set of one of the most exciting TV reboots ever: Will And Grace! The first episode is this Thursday on NBC at 9PM and I will give you scoop on upcoming episodes as soon and I walk onto that set next week and break the non-disclosure agreement I fake sign! ;)
Til then, peace out!
Watch more of Seth’s Deconstructions: