Patti LuPone is having an excellent year, and it shows in the lightness of her voice during a post-performance chat from the Belasco Theatre, home of the much-buzzed-about new musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Speaking after less than a week of previews, LuPone bubbles with delight about the show and her role as Lucia, the jealous ex-wife of actor Ivan, played by her old friend Brian Stokes Mitchell. “I did this show for five reasons,” LuPone says in her familiar crisp-yet-speedy cadence: “Pedro Almodovar, Bart Sher, Jeffrey Lane, David Yazbek and Lincoln Center Theater.” Given that roster of creator, director, librettist, composer and producer, LuPone didn’t hesitate to accept a supporting part, one that allows time to promote her newly published Patti LuPone: A Memoir. With appearances on Jimmy Fallon’s talk show and a rare three-page theater-related feature in Entertainment Weekly, plus the support of handsome husband Matt Johnston (“Isn’t he adorable?” she purrs), the two-time Tony winner has every reason to be upbeat. And luckily for us, an upbeat Patti is willing to answer a wide range of questions.
Give us the dish: Is everything going well with Women on the Verge?
We’re doing really well. We had a great [Wednesday matinee] show today. The audience really got it. There were some technical problems in our first three previews, but [since then] we’ve been fine. We’re still in rehearsal every day, but that’s not unusual. It’s a very complicated show technically—everything is computerized—but the past few shows have been very solid.
How do you feel about mounting the show from scratch on Broadway? Do you find that scary?
I don’t think in those terms. What’s the difference in opening from scratch in Philly or opening from scratch in New York? The old out-of-town tryout circuit—taking the show pre-Broadway to cities like Boston, New Haven, Philadelphia, Washington—has sort of been replaced with the amount of workshops we do. If you’re given the proper amount of rehearsal time and the proper amount of technical time and the proper amount of previews, what’s the big deal? I would rather be in New York.
Do you pay any attention to internet chatter about the show?
Oh, I hear we’re getting bad press [she laughs heartily]. You know what? I feel very emotional about this piece. It’s about women, and we have some very, very beautiful women and talented women. It’s very faithful to Pedro [Almodovar]’s movie—Pedro’s stuff is filled with heart, soul and eccentricity, and that’s what we have on the stage. The material is fantastic, and I think that [composer] David Yazbek is a genius. What he brings to musical theater in the 21st century is unique. It’s not rock and roll; it’s not the traditional Broadway melody. It’s jazz-inflected, but it’s also extremely theatrical. His music makes me weep, and Jeffrey Lane has written a very funny, moving script. I love the fact that I’m singing original material. I haven’t gotten to do that since [the London premieres of] Les Miz and Sunset Boulevard.
We were trying to figure out the last time you originated a musical on Broadway.
I think it’s The Robber Bridegroom in 1976. That’s why I’m so thrilled.
We’ve been hearing buzz about the style of the show. Your character gets to fly?
Yes, we’re doing a little aerial ballet; nothing much. We’re “women on the verge,” and at the end of the first act, we’re all hanging from the proscenium. It’s pretty wonderful! I feel like I’m in a piece of experimental theater, but with money. Like in the 60s, when experimental theater was extremely theatrical and a little shocking—this looks like that, but with the blessing of Lincoln Center Theater funding behind it. And I just think, great! Bring it on! If you’re coming to the theater to see Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, you will not be seeing anything you’ve ever seen before. Enough with the spectacles, in my opinion. I don’t understand why all the rockers want to write Broadway musicals now.
That’s kind of crazy. Bono fills arenas. Elton John fills arenas. Why are you writing a Broadway musical? [Laughs.] Having said that, there’s room for all of us, but I am sick and tired of going into a theater and being blasted out of my seat because somebody thinks I can’t hear, and seeing a spectacle that is not theatrical in any way, shape or form.
Can you tell when a show you’re involved in has major problems?
Have you felt that way about Women on the Verge?
No, because I trust [director] Bart Sher implicitly. Bart, Jeffrey and David are improving the piece, they’re not dismantling it. The show is getting tighter; the crew is working so hard improving scene changes. And the audience is with us—they’re being introduced to a lot of material and a lot of characters, and by the second act, they get it.
Is it nice not to have to carry the entire show on your back?
It sure is. Not that I don’t want to carry a show again, but I can go much easier on myself. I can go out after the show, and if I don’t sleep at night, I don’t beat myself up worrying that I won’t have the support to sing the next day. But I’ve been in this position before, because I’m a trained repertory actress. I know what it means to have a leading part and I know what it means to have a featured part.
Are you enjoying wearing Lucia’s over-the-top wigs and costumes?
[Costume designer] Cathy Zuber has bought 10 years back on my career! I look so happy and I look so young! [Laughs.] I’m telling you! I’m going to be going up for 50-year-olds, not 80-year-olds.
Tell the truth: With so many stars in the cast, is everybody getting along?
This has been the most generous, supportive, respectful group of people. There’s no reason not to have that unless you’re insecure, and nobody in this company is insecure. Everybody starts from a place of love, you know what I mean? And we have great leadership in Bart Sher. He’s a very smart man but also a very sensitive man, so you wouldn’t insult him with bad behavior. It all starts from the top. If you have a great director, you’re going to have a great experience.
Give us the scoop on [American Idol alum] Justin Guarini as your son.
Oh, he is adored! I don’t know how much acting he’s done, but he’s very, very talented. He’s smart as a whip, he adapts instantly and he’s unbelievably sweet. Laura [Benanti] and I do the most with him, and we told him today how much we adore him. We were waiting to go on, and we both turned to him and said, “You don’t know how much we love you.”
That’s a real compliment, because the two of you would tell him the truth.
We absolutely would! Laura actually said that to him. She said, “If we didn’t like you, you’d know it.” [Laughs.]
We must touch on Patti LuPone: A Memoir, which has gotten a lot of mainstream attention.
I know! Can you believe it?
Are you enjoying promoting the book?
I am, but at this point I need to stop because I’m working on my days off and I’m truly tired. I did a reading at Harvard last Monday, and I thought “Oh wow, this is so cool,” being at Harvard, number one, and actually reading from the book, which is something I haven’t done. I chose to read about Esther Scott, my music teacher from Northport High School, and about my Evita audition and having Chris Reeve get me on the plane. It’s fun going to these places, and if people like the book I’m very grateful.
Have you heard from people you mentioned in the book—good and bad?
From the good, yes—not from the bad.
Kevin Kline [LuPone’s boyfriend during her Juilliard years] hasn’t been on the horn?
You devote a chapter in the book to your friendship and work with David Mamet. What about you and Laura [Benanti] doing A Life in the Theatre together after Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight?
Oh, isn’t that brilliant! That’s a great idea. I love that play. I remember seeing Jose Ferrer and Peter Evans in the original.
How long will you stay in Women on the Verge?
We’re all contracted for the Lincoln Center 10 weeks [limited run] and then we’ll see what happens if they ask us to renew.
What’s the latest on your HBO pilot The Miraculous Year?
John [Logan, the Tony-winning creator] turned in a rough cut, and HBO gave him notes. They’ll turn in the final cut in a couple of weeks, and then we wait. It’s about a very prominent arts family in New York. The father, Frank Langella is a famous painter. His son, Norbert Leo Butz, is a genius musical theater composer. His daughter, Hope Davis, is a corporate lawyer, married with two kids. That’s one story. The other story is Norbert’s theatrical life, and I’m his leading lady.
Have you heard from Sondheim? Supposedly he didn’t like the idea that the show borrows aspects from his life.
I didn’t hear from him at all, and I have no idea [how he feels]. He wouldn’t have conversed with me about it. But you know what? I look at Norbert Leo Butz and I don’t think of Steve Sondheim [laughs].
What’s your son, Joshua, up to these days? Does he have any interest in show business?
He’s a sophomore at Ithaca College in the drama department. Wish me luck! Wish him luck. We’ve been onstage together at the Ravinia Festival since he was 10 years old, and I have to say, he has charisma. Now I want him to study his craft.
It sounds like you’re in a great frame of mind about Women on the Verge.
I am. I’m having a great time. I believe in this show. I love this company, and I love Bart, David and Jeffrey. I can’t wait for Pedro to come to the opening. My dream—and I won’t be able to do this because of the curtain—is to watch Pedro Almodovar walk down the aisle of a Broadway theater and take his seat at the musical version of his film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and the audience erupts in applause. That’s my dream.
See Patti LuPone in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at the Belasco Theatre.