Patti LuPone is a Bitch & That’s Why I Love Her

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Queen of My Life Patti LuPone at the Tony Nominee presser. Image via.

I thought it was a truth universally known that this is Patti LuPone’s world and we’re just living in it – that is, until recently, when she’s making the rounds doing press for War Paint and her seventh (SEVENTH) Tony nomination when some people on the internet are making comments.

I’m not usually one to feed the trolls, but I have to indulge them just this once. And Patti doesn’t need me to defend her honour, but in defending her, I feel like I’m defending myself.

Patti LuPone, for the uneducated, is a living Broadway legend. She originated the titular role in Evita (Tony #1) and Fantine in Les Miserables (Olivier), and has played countless other iconic characters – Mama Rose in Gypsy (Tony #2), Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, Maria Callas in Master Class – and I’m not even counting the things she did as part of The Acting Company. The woman has any actor’s dream career.

Patti also has a reputation of saying what’s on her mind. Check out this clip that Broadway.com cut from her recent Show People interview (on another note, why you censoring Patti, Broadway.com?!?! That’s not cool). She’s also famous for stopping her penultimate performance of Gypsy (during Rose’s Turn!!) to yell at an audience member taking photos (I’m getting “Who do you think you are?!” tattooed on my heart).

She recently made comments (after asked in an interview) about what she thought of Madonna’s version of Evita – and she didn’t like it. No shit. She said so. And now I have to deal with uninformed haters saying that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” and that they are no longer listening to anything Patti is in because she made those comments.

I’m generally in the same boat – let’s be kind to each other. But she was asked by an interviewer, and she gave her honest opinion. Madonna is not going to suffer because of what Patti said and vice versa. Don’t try to censor this successful, powerful woman because she said something that isn’t nice. Women aren’t nice. Opinions aren’t nice. They don’t have to be. But they should be honest.

It’s not like she talks shit for no reason, or without being able to back it up. Patti said Madonna was good at what she does in pop music, but she wasn’t a good actor. Patti LuPone literally graduated from the first acting class at the Juilliard School and toured around the country earning her stripes before making it to Broadway. She still goes to a vocal coach and she’s 67. She has many acting awards, including the Drama League’s Distinguished Performance Award, which can only be won once in any actor’s lifetime. She admits that she’s still a student sometimes, but she’s also a theatre badass. She knows good acting from bad.

Let’s not ask women for their opinions and then shame them when they’re honest. Let’s stop saying that they’re hormonal or emotional because maybe, just maybe, they actually know what they’re talking about.

P.S. Patti LuPone could run me over with a car and I would say thank you. It would be an honour.

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Ring of Keys: International Women’s Day

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Tony-winner Kelli O’Hara in her “feminist badass” t-shirt.

International Women’s Day is a day that means a lot to me: of course, I am a woman, but my biggest inspirations have been the women who came before me. My mother, my grandmother, Patti LuPone. As I began thinking about what I wanted to blog about this week, I started to think about shows with my favourite women in them. Although lots of them don’t pass the infamous feminist Bechdel test, that doesn’t mean that the women featured in musicals don’t deserve praise for creating beautiful, powerful, three-dimensional characters. Not every woman has to sing “And I Am Telling You” and be a finger-snapping ain’t-need-no-man type to be a force of nature.

Take Cosette for example. She has been compared to a bird countless times and on the surface, her main function in Les Mis is to be with Marius. But she is the reason Valjean continues to be a good man. She is his redemption and the light of his life. Everything Valjean does is for the betterment of Cosette’s life. If Fantine hadn’t died and Cosette left without a caretaker, Valjean might have continued running his factory and the story would have never continued. The entire second act is driven by Cosette – Valjean trying to protect her, Marius pulling through his injuries to be with her, Eponine feeling inadequate because of her. Without Cosette, there is no story. And yet, she is seen by some as unimportant. Not so.

The female characters I love most in theatre are the manipulative, sometimes even evil, ones. Patina Miller’s Leading Player in Pippin, The Witch in Into the Woods, Mama Rose in Gypsy, or even Maureen in RENT, depending on your perspective. I love these women so much because they’re never a cardboard cut-out. They have dimension and backstories. They have motivation to do the thing they’re doing. (This is the same reason why I love Gone Girl: all of the characters do awful things, but they’re clever and inspired.) Maybe it’s not always a good thing: why do the “bad guys” (so to speak) always get the good backstory? Why can’t the heroines be dimensional too?

Most importantly, I love flawed, grey characters. The Baker’s Wife from Into the Woods is one of my favourites (and also a reason why I love that show). You can agree or disagree with her decisions, but she’s realistic. No woman’s – no person’s – personality or decisions are always black and white. Indecision and mistakes are human.

In the fall, a young (male) author came to my school and was talking about his book.
Having never been a woman, he asked us: how do you write a woman? I told him: treat us like people.  He said that each woman has a different experience. Although that’s true, I thought, each man also has a different experience.

Last June, Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron made history and were the first-ever female writing team to win Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Score for Fun Home. Although their award/speech was not televised, Tesori said in it that she only realized a career in music when she saw Linda Twine conduct Lena Horne: “The Lady and Her Music” in 1981. For women, said Tesori, seeing is believing. In a case of intentional art imitating life, the song “Ring of Keys” in Fun Home is when a young Alison sees a butch lesbian for the first time in her life. She identifies with her and feels a sense of belonging. I think that this happens for women everywhere when they see female characters on stage.

So playwrights, hear me out: from here on in, don’t put your women on a pedestal. Write your women like you would write your men: complex, dirty, and utterly human.

 

 

 

A Beginner’s Companion to Musical Theatre

No day but today. (L-R) Adam Pascal, Jesse L. Martin and Anthony Rapp star in the 2005 RENT movie. Image courtesy Playbill.com.
No day but today. (L-R) Adam Pascal, Jesse L. Martin and Anthony Rapp star in the 2005 RENT movie. Image courtesy Playbill.com.

So, you’ve stumbled across this blog. Maybe it’s because you’re genuinely interested in what I have to say. Maybe I’m forcing you to read this because you’re my mom. Maybe you’d like to know what I’m talking about but in reality, you’ve never watched a musical before. Who’s Julie Andrews?

Don’t worry. You’re not alone. You’re just like tons of other people who have never experienced the joys of musical theatre before. I have a personal belief that those who don’t like musicals just haven’t discovered their favourite yet. I understand the theatre world is overwhelming — where do I start? What if I don’t have the money to spend on shows? You can be a theatre nerd on a budget too. Let me take you under my wing and recommend some shows for you to begin on your path to musical enlightenment.

RENT
Everything is RENT. As soon as it made its Broadway debut in 1996, RENT was a hit. Based on Puccini’s opera La Bohème, it follows eight friends living in New York City in the middle of the AIDS crisis. It sounds sad, but RENT tells one of the most important stories ever told on the stage. Plus, baby Idina Menzel in her first Broadway role ever? Come on! RENT ran on Broadway for 12 years before closing in September of 2008. By the time the show is over, I guarantee you will be singing “Seasons of Love” until the wee hours of the night.
Cast Recording: Amazon | iTunes | Spotify
Movie: Netflix | Amazon | iTunes
Final Broadway Performance: Amazon | iTunes

The Phantom of the Opera
I pick on Phantom a lot, but it’s a musical theatre staple. It’s been running in London almost as long as Les Mis has (almost) and is the longest-running show on Broadway. The show is based on Gaston Leroux’s classic novel about up-and-coming opera singer Christine, whose voice coach is a mysterious voice who she sort of believes to be her dead father but he has romantic feelings for her? Yes, this is a hit, from the same guy who wrote Cats.
It began its London run in 1986 and its Broadway run in 1988 — both are still running to this day. Many movies have been adapted from Leroux but an adaptation of the musical was released in 2004, starring Gerard Butler as The Phantom and Emmy Rossum as Christine. I’ve voiced my opinion on this movie before.
Whether you love it or you hate it, it’s a classic and no theatre nerd’s collection is complete without a little Phantom.
Cast Recording (there are many, so this is my favourite): Amazon | iTunes | Spotify
Movie: Amazon | iTunes
25th Anniversary Live: Amazon | iTunes

Les Miserables
Am I biased? Totally and completely. But no musical-starter-pack is ever complete without Les Mis. The longest-running musical in the world follows newly-released convict Jean Valjean as he escapes parole and takes on a new identity and becomes mayor. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there, as Javert, an inspector, discovers that Valjean is still on the loose and chases after him for most of his life. With iconic songs, beautiful production and an unforgettable story, Les Mis proves that some tales never go out of style.
Cast Recording (from the 25th anniversary cast): Amazon | iTunes | Spotify
Movie: Amazon | iTunes
25th Anniversary Concert: Amazon | iTunes

The Sound of Music
The hills are alive with the sound of Julie Andrews’ four-octave singing voice. This Rogers & Hammerstein staple is often an introduction to musical theatre education because (for some reason) it’s on TV at Christmastime. Although it can be a daunting task (it’s three hours — without commercials), the classic tale of Maria, the nun-to-be, who teaches the seven children of a navy captain how to sing is just as captivating as it was 50 years ago.
Cast Recording: Amazon | iTunes | Spotify
Movie: Amazon | iTunes
The Sound of Music Live! (watch it for Audra McDonald, queen of my life): Amazon | iTunes

Bonus: Hamilton
There’s no movie or official recording for this show because it just opened, but Broadway’s best and brightest are all rushing to see Lin-Manuel Miranda’s latest smash musical. Ever think that the story of the treasury-secretary Alexander Hamilton would make good material for a rap/hip hop musical? Miranda did. Want to know what makes the highest A-list of celebrities (President Obama saw the show in July, and then bought out an entire performance as a fundraiser) keep buying tickets? The cast recording is out now, and since it’s a complete recording (with only one track missing), you can follow along at home.
Cast Recording: Amazon | iTunes | Spotify

Happy Birthday, Les Mis: An Open Love Letter

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The London cast of Les Miserables celebrates the show’s 30th birthday. Image courtesy LesMis.com.

Dear Les Miserables:

Today is your birthday! Not only that, but it’s your 30th birthday. You’re the world’s longest-running and arguably (I’m arguing it) greatest musical of all time. You have an amazing amount to celebrate today.

But let me get real a second. Not only do you continue to astonish audiences around the world in numerous productions, but you also changed my life. I heard your story for the first time three years ago and since then I have dived head-first into musical theatre mania and never looked back. I dragged my fiancé to Broadway on a shoestring budget so I could see your beautiful show. Your music turns naysayers into believers. Your story teaches us that we should forgive and never forget and that nothing is more powerful than love.
But how did you get there? No show starts as a phenomenon.

The original production has been running in London since it opened in 1985. There has been three Broadway productions, including the one currently running, countless touring productions and endless regional shows.

The multitude of stories within the show makes it stand out. Even though all of those stories are threaded together by Valjean’s life, the audience cares about all of the characters (my friend Connor would beg to differ, but this isn’t his blog. His blog is here). There are tons of dedicated Les Mis fans who will tell you that their favourite character is Courfeyrac or Feuilly (who? Exactly). Everyone can find someone to identify with, regardless of the outcome of the characters.

The music of a show, as I’ve learned, is so important to the timelessness that it retains. Shows like Phantom of the Opera are pretty ’80s (listen to the drum machine in the title track). If you listen to the French demo recording of Les Mis from 1980, you’ll hear some pretty awful disco music during “ABC Cafe/Red and Black.” Thankfully, that was changed before your debut. Now, the classic orchestra score not only allows you to transcend generations, but songs like “I Dreamed A Dream” and “Bring Him Home” have become pop hits outside of the show.

The message of Les Mis is what makes it so important. No matter what happens, no matter who dies, tomorrow comes. Tomorrow always comes. And you should be there to be a part of it.

Ramin Karimloo, who was Broadway’s Valjean up until a month ago, tweeted this out today:

@raminkarimloo: Happy Birthday @lesmisofficial … What a wonderful friend you’ve been. Love that we’ve been in each others’ lives. You’re amazing.

Thanks for everything, Les Mis. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Love,

Diana

Empty Chairs at Empty Tables: Les Miserables and the Syrian Refugee Crisis

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Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche in the 2012 film adaptation of Les Miserables. Image courtesy Les Mis Wiki.

Sometimes art imitates life. Sometimes life imitates art. Sometimes this is pleasant and even occasionally fun. But sometimes, the things we find in life that remind us of art aren’t the things that we like about that piece of art. This week, a photo surfaced of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed up on the shore after attempting to escape his war-torn hometown with his family. Three-quarters of the family did not survive the trip. We are bombarded with images every day, including some very explicit images. Some people even choose to play violent video games or watch gory movies and voluntarily expose themselves to those messages. Some people may not even bat an eye at images of corpses on crime-based television shows or even find detailed stories of serial killer victims interesting. But when the image is of a child, the epitome of innocence, the story changes. There is nothing fascinating or exciting about this event — there is only sadness. There is only fear.

In Les Miserables, many people die. People die of old age, disease, suicide, even as a product of gunfire. There is one death that stands out more than the others, though. In the heat of battle, the young Gavroche (often played by charming actors as young as ten) volunteers to go out in no man’s land to gather bullets for his band of older brothers. He doesn’t make it back over the barricade. This is the moment in the show when the audience goes silent — no more recognizable songs, no more sing-a-longs about shady innkeepers, no more camaraderie. The other students at the barricade realize that they are doomed at this moment. The National Guard has killed a child.

There is a touching moment in the 2012 movie adaptation of Les Mis in which the bodies of the dead students are lined up in the cafe where they used to spend their days. Javert walks along them and places his own Medal of Honour on Gavroche’s jacket. Alan Kurdi didn’t live long enough to receive a medal, but he will be remembered. Both the Kurdi family and the students of the 1832 rebellion died fighting for a better life. His memory will live on in the shocking image on the cover of every newspaper. That photo inspires change. It must. It has to. The people of Paris, suffering in the streets, sing the lines: “When’s it gonna end? When we gonna live? Something’s gotta happen now, something’s gotta give. It’ll come, it’ll come…”