The Great White Way might still be dark, but when COVID-19 is ultimately defeated, Patti LuPone will be back with bells on. LuPone has been a respected actress and singer on stage and screen for almost 50 years. And at 71, the Broadway legend is as talented and feisty as ever (even if Instagram and Zoom are her only current outlets for reaching fans).
While theatergoers eagerly await her next live performance, we’re taking a look back at her illustrious career.
Who Is Patti LuPone?
Patti Ann LuPone was born on April 21, 1949, in Northport, New York. Her mother, Angela Louise Patti, was a library administrator; her father, Orlando Joseph LuPone, was a high school administrator and English teacher.
With her sights set on performing from an early age, LuPone began dancing at age 4. After high school, she trained at the prestigious Juilliard School in Manhattan. Along with famed actor Kevin Kline, she was a member of the drama division’s first graduating class.
It’s no coincidence that she became an entertainer. Talent runs in the family. LuPone was named after her great-great-aunt Adelina Patti, a 19th-century opera singer who is regarded as one of the most famous sopranos of all time. Her brother Robert—an actor, dancer, and director—trained as a dancer under Martha Graham and originated the role of Zach the director in A Chorus Line.
2021 marks 48 years since LuPone made her official Broadway debut. Let’s dive into the many stage productions that she’s helped bring to life.
Patti LuPone’s Iconic Broadway Career
LuPone made her Broadway debut as Irina in the 1973 production of Anton Chekhov’s The Three Sisters. In 1975, she played Rosamund Musgrove in an adaptation of Eudora Welty’s The Robber Bridegroom. The performance garnered two nominations for a Tony Award (Best Featured Actress in a Musical) and Drama Desk Award (Outstanding Actress in a Musical).
But it was her starring role in 1979’s original Broadway production of Evita that made LuPone a bonafide star. Despite telling the New York Times it was “the worst experience of my life,” she won a Tony Award (Best Actress in a Musical) for her performance. She won a second Tony in 2008 for her role as Rose in the Broadway revival of Gypsy.
LuPone was even critically acclaimed across the pond. In 1985 she won an Olivier Award (presented by The Society of London Theatre) for her roles in The Cradle Will Rock and Les Misérables. She scored the same honor in 2018 for her role as Joanne in the West End revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company.
In total, she has stood on stage in over 60 productions. Her latest project was a Broadway version of Company, but Covid forced Broadway to shutter after just two weeks of previews.
“Before it happened, there were rumors going around for about a day that Broadway was shutting down,” LuPone told the New Yorker. “And that was shocking. I mean, I went through 9/11; I was rehearsing Noises Off. I think then they shut down for only two days? I don’t remember Broadway ever being shut.”
“It’s very hard,” she continued. “I keep wondering: Is this aliens sending a message? Is this Mother Earth sending a message? Is there so much negative energy on Earth right now that we created this virus? You do your best to stay positive.”
Though the Broadway production of Company is still on hiatus, the cast was able to perform a virtual version of the show’s opening number for the New York Times in June 2020.
Patti LuPone Was Bullied By ‘Evita’ Director Hal Prince
Although LuPone credits Evita for raising her profile, her experience behind the scenes was a struggle. In a 2019 Q&A with the New York Times, she revealed that director Hal Prince constantly tested and challenged the young actress.
In one incident, during a rehearsal with the New York company of Evita, Prince reprimanded her in front of the company.
“He accused me of changing blocking,” explained LuPone. “I went, ‘No, you changed it in previews.’ An argument—this humiliation—ensued for the entire rehearsal. I ended up in a fetal position in my dressing room, crying my eyes out. Stage management came in, and I said: ‘Why didn’t you defend me? The changes were in the prompt book.’ They were Hal Prince’s men, the stage management, and one of them said, ‘Oh, honey, he does that to all his leading ladies.’ As if it were acceptable. That was a form of bullying, but you just go, O.K. I never understood it.”
LuPone said she regretted not including this story in her 2010 memoir. “Out of respect for the guy, I took it out. I wish I had left it in, because when we talk about bullying, it has to be better defined. I’ve been bullied all my life.”
“I don’t know how I feel about bullying in show business, because it has made me stronger,” she added. “Sometimes you think: Is this a test from the gods? Is it what you have to go through to get what you want? Or is it just abuse? In a lot of cases, it is just abuse.”
Patti LuPone Has Also Appeared On Your Favorite TV Shows
LuPone’s talent isn’t limited to the stage. From 1989 to 1993, she starred as Libby Thatcher in the acclaimed ABC series Life Goes On. The show was groundbreaking in that it was the first to feature a primary character with Down syndrome (Chris Burke). During its run, Life Goes On was nominated for multiple primetime Emmys and a Golden Globe Award.
In more recent years, LuPone has been a fixture in multiple Ryan Murphy productions including American Horror Story: Coven and Pose. In 2020, she starred as former actress Avis Amberg in Murphy’s Hollywood. It was a role written specifically for her.
“Avis is a great character to play, the best character I’ve ever had,” LuPone told the Boston Herald. “It was thrilling and let’s face it! I look stunning.”
Not that the actress always needs to be seen. LuPone has lent her voice to various animated shows including Steven Universe, Vampirina, BoJack Horseman, and The Simpsons.
Patti LuPone Doesn’t Have A Filter
Despite keeping her experience with Hal Prince out of her memoir, LuPone’s never been one to hold back.
“You see, I don’t censor myself,” she told the New Yorker. “I’ve never censored myself, and that’s probably a very big flaw of mine, but I don’t know how to be diplomatic. I’m an Italian. I think I would feel ill if I suppressed it.”
Given her experience with bullying and misogyny in the theatre world, it’s no surprise that LuPone likes to take aim at strongmen. Her preferred target in recent years has been President Donald Trump. In October 2020, she made a hilarious reference to Evita in this public appearance by the outgoing President:
I still have the lung power and I wore less makeup. This revival is closing November 3rd. pic.twitter.com/vRQ4LepACv— Patti LuPone (@PattiLuPone) October 6, 2020
She’s also stated that she would never perform for him, for reasons you’ll have to hear for yourself.
“With Trump, you know, I was in New York City when this guy rose to fame,” she said. “He’s always been a shyster. He’s always been a con man. He’s always had this braggadocio. And I just don’t understand how people don’t see that, because he’s not serving anybody but himself. But this is old news.”
Agree with her or not, we appreciate that she’s unapologetic and doesn’t take guff from anyone. It’s the very reason she’s celebrated as the ultimate Broadway diva.