Patti LuPone’s career has always been unpredictable and full of surprises. Even to Patti LuPone.
“Where I thought I was going to go, I didn’t,” the Broadway legend insisted in a recent interview. “Where I went, I couldn’t believe I was there. [Even today] I never know what’s coming next.”
The sublime singing actress is making her long-overdue Santa Barbara debut May 13 at the Granada Theatre, where she will perform her one-woman show Matters of the Heart. It features an eclectic mix of songs and an unusual combination of instruments: She is accompanied by a piano and a string quartet.
“I love this show,” she said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles, where she was taping the pilot for a possible television series. “It hooks into a lot of my varied experiences with love, which are both painful and ecstatic.”
LuPone developed the show with director Scott Wittman and music director/arranger Dick Gallagher in 1999. When she first performed it in New York City the following year, The New York Times called it “more of a theater piece than a concert.”
While noting the piece has changed somewhat over the past decade, with some songs added and others replaced, she agreed with that assessment. “I would consider all of my concerts more theater pieces than concerts,” she said. “I consider every song I sing a theatrical journey.”
LuPone particularly appreciated a Pittsburgh reviewer’s comment that her renditions of the songs—some pop classics, some from the Broadway stage—“expose the lyrics more” than many previous interpretations.
“I’m lyric-driven,” she said. “I have to walk on stage knowing exactly what I’m saying, and then I have to tell the story. From a very early age, it has always been my desire to be a storyteller—to get on stage and communicate. It took a great deal of training to understand how to do that with clarity.”
A native New Yorker, LuPone received part of that training in the inaugural class of the Juilliard School’s Drama Division. After learning the proper technique for mastering the classics (which she put to use as a founding member of John Houseman’s The Acting Company), she went on to create two iconic roles of the modern musical theater: Fantine in Les Misérables and the title role in Evita.
In recent years, she has headlined major Broadway revivals of the musicals Sweeney Todd and Gypsy, winning a 2008 Tony Award for the latter. She has also performed regularly in the plays of her good friend David Mamet, and as a guest star in such television series as 30 Rock.
In the gossipy sectors of the media, she has become notorious for calling out rude behavior on the part of audience members. If she spots someone chatting on a cell phone or taking photographs, she has been known to stop the show and forcefully ask the person to stop.
That sort of bad behavior “has gotten worse” in recent years, LuPone lamented. “The more advanced the technology, the ruder the behavior. That is so rude, not just to the performers, but also to the other people in the audience. They don’t want to see that LED light or hear that cell phone go off. That breaks their concentration!”
“You can’t be in the moment if you’re chronicling the moment—if you’re taking photographs or texting.”
Interestingly, however, LuPone does not place all the blame for this behavior on the multitasking audience members. In her mind, part of the responsibility lies with the performers.
“I think you go to the theater to be transported,” she said. “That takes a lot of hard work on both the audience’s part and the actor’s part. The actor has to make sure that what they’re saying, and how they communicate it, incites, excites, and involves the audience. And they have to do it every single night.”
“I think young singers don’t know the difference between projecting and not projecting, because they rely on the microphone,” she added. “It becomes a crutch. They need to know how to project acoustically in a house. It’s so crazy that people don’t know that, or don’t care. I care deeply.”
Often, she lamented, “The volume of the shows is a problem. With some shows, you can make a phone call and nobody notices because the show is so loud! I complained to Arthur [Laurents] about this when I saw [the recent revival of] West Side Story.
“Theater should be an intimate experience. In some productions these days, audiences are pushed back in their seats because it’s too loud. The voices sound disembodied. They’re not coming from the stage. You can’t get engaged [under those circumstances], because you’re looking at a mouth move, but the sound isn’t coming from that mouth.”
That will most definitely not be the case at the Granada next Thursday.
“I always tell the sound guy, ‘Let me sing, and then mix me. Do not presume to mix me before you know my voice,’” she said. “I know the difference, and I will get on their case.”
UCSB Arts & Lectures presents Patti LuPone in recital at the Granada on Thursday, May 13, at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu or call 893-3535.