In order to understand the full Patti LuPone, one most come to terms with the fact there are two sides to the Broadway icon.
On one side, she’s a sweet, loving woman full of warmth and compassion. Hearing her laugh would put a smile on anyone’s face.
On the other hand, there’s the no-nonsense, tell it like it is woman who doesn’t put up with disrespectful people or have time in her life for anything to stand in her way.
She is a rare breed — people tend to have mixed feelings about her, but none can argue her talent. Some call her a diva, but it’s not recommended you do so in front of her.
“I don’t think [the term diva] applies to people in the musical theatre,” LuPone says. “I think that word should remain in the opera world, where it comes from. I think the meaning has gotten lost.
“I’m not sure how people are referring to me as a diva. It doesn’t bother me, it just depends on how they’re using it, how they’re using that term with me.”
LuPone, along with actors Kevin Kline and David Ogden Stiers (of “M*A*S*H” fame), were part of the very first graduating class of the Juilliard Drama Division. She was also an original member of The Acting Company, founded by John Houseman.
Over the years, LuPone has been in countless theatre productions, several television shows (“Life Goes On,” as well as guest spots on shows such as “Frasier,” “Army Wives,” “Law & Order” and many others), and many movies, such as “State and Main,” “Driving Miss Daisy” and, most recently, a filmed version of a stage production of the Broadway hit “Company” with Neil Patrick Harris and Stephen Colbert.
“That was a riot, especially with that cast,” LuPone says. “It was also very difficult to do because you had so little time to rehearse and then you’re thrown up in front of an Avery Fisher Hall audience, a New York Philharmonic audience, so you’ve got to be on your toes.”
However, most know her in what she calls her most challenging role, playing Eva Peron in “Evita.” She won a Tony in 1979 for her performance, but playing the part almost ended her career. She has said over the years that she had to scream her way through the role, which damaged her vocal chords.
Something good came out of the nightmare of “Evita,” though. Her co-star in the show was Mandy Patinkin, who also has done it all on Broadway, television and movies.
“Oh, he’s great,” LuPone says. “He’s a soul mate, a dear, dear, dear friend and a champion, and a great partner on stage. There’s a few of those, not a whole lot of those, and when you have that relationship on stage, it’s priceless.”
In 2009, when she was performing in the revival of “Gypsy,” she stopped on stage during the middle of a song and called out someone in the audience for taking pictures with their cell phone. Since then, she has talked about losing the elegance once found on Broadway.
“First of all, let’s talk about the food and the cameras going off — that is just horrendous. We can’t have a theatrical experience anymore — I can’t have one as an audience member because I’m distracted by other audience members and that’s just a really sad fact,” LuPone says. “Then, of course, it’s turned into a little bit of Disneyland, and that’s not good either. I would rather see our producers dare have the courage to produce young playwrights and composers and see new ideas on stage.
“And I would love to see theater owners enforce no food in the theater and house managers and ushers do their best to be vigilant about texting and cameras and videos. It’s up to the audience, and it’s up to us, to stop it, as opposed to just let it go passably by.”
LuPone’s next venture is one she’s definitely comfortable doing. It was recently announced she would star alongside Debra Winger in David Mamet’s newest play, “The Anarchist.” This will be the seventh time LuPone has worked with Mamet.
“I’m very excited about [the new show]. It’s a new Mamet play! It’s two women and it presents some wonderful arguments,” LuPone says. “It’s about redemption, it’s about power, it’s about the use of force. Right now I’m in the middle of it, so I can’t really be distinct in a statement, but it’s very exciting in the room with the two of them.
“It’s great [working with Mamet]. I love it. I was the one who asked him, ‘Are you going to direct it, David?’ And he said he hadn’t thought about it and I’m so glad he is.”
Of course, being the professional she is, there are a lot of shows and roles she would love to do, but the time for her, LuPone says, has passed.
“Oh, there’s a ton of roles that went by. You know, Ado Annie in “Oklahoma,” Ruth in “Wonderful Town,” Nellie in “South Pacific,” Desiree in “A Little Night Music,” I mean there are tons of roles that I won’t be able to play because I’m too old or I didn’t get an opportunity to play.”
Regardless, there is not a show or role she would go back and redo if given the chance.
“I don’t actually think that way, because once I leave it, I leave it that way unless they ask me to do it again,” LuPone says, “and then in the rehearsal process you discover new things, but I’m always looking for the next one, not the last one.”
She is, however, bringing one of her favorite solo acts, “Matters of the Heart,” to Strathmore. Usually, when LuPone goes out on tour, she tours with Patinkin and they do a version of their greatest hits. When she’s on her own, though, she gets to shine.
“It’s an evening of love songs and different aspects of love — a mother’s love, love lost, desperate love, etc. It’s set with a string quartet and piano,” LuPone says. “This is the show I love to do and I don’t get to do that often.”
Does she have any regrets, though?
“Nothing I want to talk about.”