Patti LuPone: A Memoir

Image of Patti LuPone: A Memoir
Release Date: 
November 7, 2011
Three Rivers Press
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Once upon a time, in the Old Country known as Italy, the Pattis from Sicily and the LuPones from Abruzzo both moved, quite separately, to the United States of America and to the Empire State of New York, all in hopes of finding a better life. What first generation American Angelina Patti found on Long Island was Orlando Joseph LuPone. A merger resulted, both in marriage and in the family names, and Patti LuPone was born. Literally.

In her new memoir, Patti LuPone (the book), tells the story of Patti LuPone, the person, the theatrical and musical talent—and force of nature.

She seems to come by the “force of nature” part genetically. As she recounts in her book, “There’s a family rumor that Grandma Patti was a bootlegger. They say she hid the liquor under the floorboards of a sewing room and could smell the cops coming a mile away. Grandpa Patti was murdered before I was born, and the other rumor was that Grandma was somehow involved. . . .

“They never did solve Grandpa’s murder. When I was fourteen years old, there was an incident where my mother almost let the cat out of the bag. I was standing at the kitchen sink daydreaming. My mother sidled up to me with a small sepia picture of a shirtless man in swimming trunks with his back to the camera. I looked over and asked, ‘Who’s that?’

“My mother replied, ‘Your real grandfather, my father.’

“’Well, who’s the guy I think is my real grandfather?’


This exchange comes in the early part of the book, the first few pages in fact, that set the stage for equally startling revelations that follow, chief among them that, when it comes to theatrical murder, Andrew Lloyd Webber has it all over Grandma Patti. But let’s not leap ahead.

Patti LuPone is the sort of book that is a banquet to theater fans. As such it serves up equal portions from all four of Broadway’s food groups: Dazzling Talent, Skyrocketing Success, Devastating Loss, and Damn It, I’m Still Here. Along the way, the page turning is as unstoppable as is LuPone herself. This is a memoir meant to be consumed whole. It is perfectly seasoned, the rich, dense meat of it, the bitter, the sweet, the salt and the spice. And, for dessert, there’s Arthur Laurents and the triumphant Broadway revival of Gypsy.

There is much to be learned in the pages of Patti LuPone. Such as the tale of her early performances in the LuPone Trio with her twin brothers, Bobby and Billy, and their appearance on “Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour” (for young people reading this, think: “America’s Got Talent” in black and white). About that, she writes, “Bobby and I were hanging underneath a stairwell between the camera rehearsal and the live show when we heard somebody from the program tell one of the contestants with a southern accent and his manager that he would win the contest that night. This was before airtime—before we had performed, before anyone had performed and the audience had voted. The two of us looked at each other—we couldn’t believe what we were hearing. We tried not to believe that ‘Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour’ was fixed.”

Jump ahead a few years and it turns out the Broadway musical adaptation of the famed movie Sunset Boulevard was fixed as well. In one of the two chapters that LuPone dedicates to the task of setting the record straight when it comes to her historic (and still, admittedly, shocking) loss of the role of Norma Desmond on the Broadway stage to actress Glenn Close—something she learned by reading it in Liz Smith’s newspaper column—LuPone writes, “From the beginning of my involvement with Sunset Boulevard, I’d been in a snake pit of innuendo. Meryl, Barbra, Glenn . . . Every day I had to read that someone else was singing my songs, or that someone else was taking my place, or that someone else should have taken my place. After months of escalating speculation and rumormongering, followed by denials from [Lloyd Webber’s company] Really Useful that were at first ironclad but grew less and less convincing by the day, to be handed this kind of public humiliation—in the worst possible way—overwhelmed me.

“I took batting practice in my dressing room with a floor lamp. I swung at everything in sight—mirrors, wig stands, makeup, wardrobe, furniture, everything. Then I heaved the lamp out of the second-floor window.”

Surely, Grandma Patti would have been proud.

And, indeed, the reader is as well. In that Patti LuPone has chosen to tell her own story in her own voice, her own way, the effect is like sitting behind her on the couch in her dressing room, years later, after that lamp went out the window, and watching her, slowly, slowly remove her stage makeup bit by bit, until what remains is a reflection of her real face, unadorned, honest, proud and strikingly lovely. It is impossible to resist her viewpoint, her wit or her willingness to name names. In the pages of Patti LuPone we learn that the things that she has made look so easy all these years, her comic timing, her dramatic ability and, most of all, her singing, were all the result of years of dedication and honing her craft. In an age in which fame seems the result of a Lotto win more than anything else, it is refreshing to be reminded that excellence is a quality to be earned.

One last dressing room story: of her dressing room in the Eugene O’Neill Theater, site of the historic revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd in which she played not only the part of Mrs. Lovett, but the tuba as well, she writes: “My dressing room was on the second floor of the theatre, facing West Forty-Ninth street . . . All kinds of Broadway types passed through there—cops, playwrights, composers, ghosts, and even private investigators. It was a Damon Runyon-esque dressing room. Steve Sondheim would often join me. Sometimes he left for dinner after the show went up; sometimes he saw all or part of the show with friends. To me, this was New York Theatre—Steve backstage in my dressing room, with a glass of wine, some raw almonds, reading the New York Times . . .”

It is the essence of Broadway theater for us as well, Patti, as are you. Thanks for sharing.