David Yazbek has some surprising words of advice for all aspiring Broadway composers: Don't listen to any musical theater for a whole year.
"If you can find Chinese folk music, listen to it," says Yazbek, who penned the scores of Broadway's "The Full Monty" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. "If you can find Gregorian chants, listen to those. Listen to everything -- jazz, rock, power pop and death metal -- but don't listen to any musical theater for a year. It just has a tendency to be stale and suffocating."
The writer, composer and self-described "musical troublemaker" may have taken home Tony and Drama Desk awards for his Broadway scores, but Yazbek still doesn't consider himself a "theater person." And while much of his discography veers far from the jazz-hands crowd that lines Times Square every night, he's gearing up to share a New York stage Feb. 4 with Broadway powerhouse Patti LuPone.
The larger-than-life stage persona of LuPone (who nabbed Tony Awards for plum roles in "Evita" and "Gypsy") seems almost at odds with the downtown cult following Yazbek and his band, His Fine Washables, have cultivated with albums like Evil Monkey Man. Still, Yazbek insists the pairing is a natural fit.
"Patti's very adventurous and has a passionate, joyous approach to her work," says Yazbek, who first teamed up with LuPone on the 2010 musical "Women On the Verge of Nervous Breakdown." "She's intensely curious, but she's not driven by her ego; she's driven by the work itself ... and that translates into these big, iconic performances that don't reek of nonsense."
Yazbek isn't deterred by the fact that both he and LuPone were scorched by the New York theater critics for "Women," which closed after just 69 performances despite an all-star cast that included Sherie Rene Scott and Brian Stokes Mitchell.
"Not going out of town is a big mistake for any Broadway show," he recalls. "I don't think that the staging or the production serviced the book and the music very well. ... We just didn't have enough time. But we kept working on it, and I think people who saw the show even just two weeks after we opened saw something a lot different than those who came on opening night."
Audiences shouldn't expect LuPone to dip into her vast Broadway catalog with songs like "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" or "I Dreamed A Dream." Instead, Yazbek says their shared set will include "Invisible," LuPone's haunting solo from "Women" that's since become a staple of her own recent cabaret performances, in addition to other tunes that fans wouldn't immediately associate with the Broadway diva.
But those seemingly off-beat choices are certainly in line with Yazbek's 92Y Tribeca residency, which takes place on the first Monday of every month.
"As a songwriter and musician, I get interested in different genres and I just play what I want to play," he quips. "It might be a form of ADD."
Patti LuPone joins David Yazbek at New York's 92Y Tribeca on Feb. 4, 2012. For more information, click here.
Check out some of Patti LuPone's best moments, with commentary by "Patti Issues" writer and star Ben Rimalower, below:
"This is pretty definitive Patti. You get close-ups of her thrilling singing and acting in this dramatic sequence from Evita. And then when she comes downstage to deliver those rangy cadenzas, well, they test the mettle of anyone playing Eva, but no one will ever tear through them as ferociously as Patti."
"Speaking of ferocious, this 'Rainbow High' performance -- the solo version as Patti performed it in her nightclub act at Les Mouches -- is almost too much. Patti's balls-to-the-wall flair would surely give any drag queen a run for their money, but what drag queen could be as terrifying or sing those high notes as clearly?"
"I like to think this is what Patti would be like as Anita in West Side Story -- just a sassy, salty sprite. For anyone who's ever fast-forwarded though the long musical interlude in 'Buenos Aires,' it's a pleasure to watch Patti jauntily nod at the conductor and go straight from the bridge into the third verse. Of course, the real pleasure is that bridge; Patti's effortless and bright belting of those C-naturals popping up to the F-sharp ('And if ever...') is joyful and virtuosic."
"I love this performance! I think the song is called 'Pittsburgh.' I'm pretty sure it's by David Nichtern, who wrote 'Midnight at the Oasis' and was Patti's musical director for a few years in the 1980s. I once had lunch with Patti and David to talk about recording a dance track for Patti! I still want do it!"
"Did someone say joyful and virtuosic? Patti is all leather lungs and sass. This was not her regular wig in the show, and you can see where it causes problems in the choreography, but I don't care. She looks so pretty!"
"It's cool to see Patti in the full Fantine drag, although this cut of the song always bothers me here, and on the Olivier Awards from 1985 and at the Les Miz 21st anniversary or whatever. I like on this same broadcast when she does 'I'd Do Anything' with the boys from a different Oliver revival than hers. What's the difference?"
"Whoever posted this wrote 'classy,' and they're right. Patti looks like a million bucks and sings even better. This is the best recorded version of her doing 'Bewitched,' although nothing can compare with the magic of seeing her do it live in Pal Joey at City Center in 1995 -- all 1,700 verses!"
"If anyone holds up the Judy/Barbra mantle, it's Patti and Audra, and this is perfect proof. I hear that in concert they sometimes switch parts -- I'd love to hear that, too! This is magical, though, on Rosie right after Sept. 11. Their sweet harmony was a much-needed tonic."
"This video is my everything. Look at her throwing shade on 'Mrs. Mooney has a pie shop.' And the voice, the voice, the voice! Stephen Sondheim told me, 'For a woman her age, well, any age, it's astonishing.'"
"No, this one is really my everything. Some people might wish you got the climactic 'Rose's Turn' on the Tonys broadcast, but Patti's performance is so galvanizing, you can't complain. Every single note gives me goosebumps, and her body almost balletic in the walk she stalks across that stage. Tremendous!"
"I always enjoy Patti belting this classic, but her most incinerating, vitriolic version by far was this one in 'Company' with the New York Philharmonic. I told Patti how much it had grown from her concert performances, and she said, 'It's a scene. I didn't have the information.'"