Arts & Culture » Theater

Patti LuPone pulls no punches

by Jim Gladstone

Patti LuPone was outspoken at the Curran Theatre. Photo: Courtesy the subject
Patti LuPone was outspoken at the Curran Theatre. Photo: Courtesy the subject  

No San Francisco queen worth his salt would turn down a salty sit-down with Patti LuPone. So we were out in full force last Wednesday night as the Curran Theatre offered the latest installment of "Show & Tell," its series of onstage conversations with leading lights of the theater scene.

We're notoriously informal about nightlife in this city, with hoodies and jeans somehow allowed in the same constellations as Michelin stars. But in homage to La LuPone, this was an unusually sharp-dressed special-occasion crowd. Loads of shiny designer jackets, just-shined shoes, frosted tips.

The evening was moderated by that cheerful champion of San Francisco theater, Carole Shorenstein Hays. While an esteemed producer and powerful behind-the-scenes dealmaker, Hays is also a sweet, soft-spoken presence, her public personality about 180 degrees away from that of her evening's guest.

As the two women sat across from each other in broad-backed, cream-colored armchairs, I kept imagining voluble, rambunctious Patti pouncing forward from her seat, devouring dear Carole in a couple of ferocious, lip-smacking bites, then spitting out the buttons from her late interlocutor's tailored green velvet jacket.

But Miss Patti was on her best behavior as she gamely discussed others' worst. With the slightest nudge of a prompt from Hays, she'd be off and running with an anecdote about Andrew Lloyd Webber's battle with the twin devils of alcohol and insecurity (Cue Sturm und Drang organ chords!), or the undue pressure that producers of her television series "Life Goes On" put upon Chris Burke, her co-star, who had Down syndrome. She even dissed Denzel Washington, who, as a screen actor, she suggested "just doesn't have the craft" to succeed in his current Broadway run in "The Iceman Cometh."

That said, it was Webber she circled back to, again and again, a great carrion bird with no patience for the Reaper. "Some of the music in 'Evita' is awfully hard to listen to, don't you think? 'Sunset Boulevard' really isn't a great musical. During rehearsals, Andrew was missing, you know - he just wasn't there."

We pledged solidarity as she pled for the world to turn off its mobiles during the sacred hours of theater, lest we descend to an even more cultureless fray than today's. We cheered the tale of Our Lady snatching a cellphone from the hands of a texting audience member, side-eyeing the queenfriends we'd brought along for the show, knowing their hurrahs were little more than inverse Schadenfreude.

"Onstage conversation" tends to be code for "a staged conversation," but LuPone, consummate actress that she is, did a helluva job of making her lines feel spontaneous. There was no shortage of set-pieces tucked into her discussion, including an oft-repeated homily (you can find it on YouTube) about how one learns more from failure than success, but LuPone infused it with gravelly, outspoken energy that made her advice feel as spontaneous as it was sound. Hays slipped quarters in the jukebox, but Lo! the jukebox sang.

And then, just before our audience with the Peron of Our Own ended, she really did sing. She chose "I Am San Francisco," from "I Am Harvey Milk" by composer Andrew Lippa, whose new gay opus "Unbreakable" world-premieres with the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus this weekend.

La Lupone commands your attendance.

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