Despite a white-hot stage and screen career spanning more than four decades, Patti LuPone has no time for nostalgia -- and with good reason.
The powerhouse performer is once again on a professional roll, having just landed a plum part in “American Horror Story: Coven” alongside Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates and series regular Jessica Lange. Earlier in 2013, she wrapped a smash New York run of her “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” live act, just weeks after releasing “Far Away Places,” her sterling new CD of torch songs and cabaret standards recorded before an ecstatic audience at Manhattan nightspot 54 Below.
Fortunately for LuPone's fans, however, there's Seth Rudetsky. The New York-based musician, writer, actor, radio host and all-around Broadway savant has an uncanny ability to “manipulate” LuPone, who is otherwise forward-thinking with her material, into performing songs from her stage triumphs in “Evita,” “Les Misérables,” “Anything Goes” and “Gypsy” live.
Rudetsky and LuPone's latest act -- a hilarious, spontaneous and even poignant mix of musical performances paired with behind-the-scenes theater dish -- premiered to great acclaim at the Art House Theater in Provincetown, Mass., last summer. In June, the pair will hit the road for the first time, heading to London's Leicester Square Theatre for six performances, no two of which will be identical. It's the closest thing fans will experience to a Patti LuPone request hour, with Rudetsky acting as both diligent host and enthusiastic devotee.
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“I think Patti feels secure with me, and she knows that I'm going to make her look good,” Rudetsky said. “I think she appreciates and is flattered that I know her work so well. It’s a combination of my technical skill and my fandom. I’m not just some fan saying, ‘Do it!’"
The show is also a unique act of submission for the legendary diva, whose commanding theatrical performances remain without parallel. At one New York rehearsal, Rudetsky came armed with the sheet music for tunes from “Evita” and “Les Misérables”: “Eva and Magaldi/Eva Beware of the City” and “Fantine's Death.” (Of the notable omission of “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” Rudetsky noted, “It’s mostly about what I want to hear live in Patti’s entire repertoire … I’m not so into the standards. I like the rarer stuff from shows -- the weirder sh*t.”)
At first, LuPone appeared reluctant -- “Must I do this? I'm going to cry my eyes out,” she griped as Rudetsky took to the piano -- but she soon obliged, launching into the fiery, life-or-death belt that has become her signature.
“The entire show is really in Seth’s head … I’m Italian, so performances and memories go hand-in-hand for me,” LuPone said. “Seth always has to promise me he's going to be at his funniest; otherwise it’s dull and I’m not interested. It's electric when he's funny.”
Rudetsky, who has worked extensively alongside stars like Betty Buckley and Audra McDonald, says LuPone is very much a singular performer in the theater world.
“A lot of people can belt high notes -- I always say that my mother can belt a high note [laughs], but she doesn't have the vibrato and the tone is horrible,” he said. “Patti is able to belt, but on top of that, the quality of her voice is so amazing, and plus, she's a Juillard-trained actress.”
The show will also allow audiences to witness LuPone performing songs from roles she’d hoped to play in London’s West End, but for one reason or another, wasn’t able to do so.
“Since ‘Les Mis,’ my appearances haven’t been successful, or the stuff that I wanted to go to London with -- whether it was something I was nominated for a Tony or even won a Tony for here -- I’m not going over there for,” she said, joking that her last London appearance consisted of just “eight bars of music” at a theater anniversary event.
Of his working relationship with LuPone, Rudetsky offered a more glib assessment, noting, “She curses me out, and I raise the key!”
Patti LuPone and Seth Rudetsky play London’s Leicester Square Theatre June 16 through 23. For more information, click here.