Patti LuPone Toasts Her 7th Tony Nomination — and Weighs In on New Broadway Talent

The Broadway icon and ”War Paint” star talks about how to sustain a theater career for over 40 years.

Patti LuPone has some advice for the up-and-comers nominated for Tony Awards this year: Know your craft. LuPone has seen it all in her career, having garnered two Tony Awards (for Evita and Gypsy), and, all told, racked up seven nominations over the course of 40 years.

Her latest is for War Paint, the Scott Frankel, Michael Korie, Doug Wright musical about cosmetics pioneers Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, in which she, as Rubinstein, shares the stage with Christine Ebersole's Arden. Both LuPone and Ebersole received Tony nods this year, well deserved for a show that LuPone calls "quite a statement for women."

Not one to keep her feet planted in one project at a time, LuPone is also gearing up for a Broadway Cares concert on September 24 with Seth Rudetsky, in which they'll share stories and songs, and he'll "deconstruct" her famous performances. And when you're a legend like she is, there's a lot to deconstruct and even more iconic tunes to sing.

Patti LuPone returns to Broadway in War Paint.
Patti LuPone returns to Broadway in War Paint.
(© Tricia Baron)

Congratulations to you and Christine on your Tony nominations! It's great that you were both recognized for your work.
We love each other so much and we depend on each other so much. It's a complete duet. It's really a monologue, but with two people singing.

What kind of research did you do into the life of Helena Rubinstein? How much of what you learned went into your performance?
I read War Paint, of course, and then Madame, all the biographies I could get my hands on, and watched The Powder & the Glory. And then there was some really interesting footage of her in her salon talking to clients that were in chairs, and what to do with their skin. It wasn't a commercial. I don’t know what you would call it or where it aired, but it was pretty amazing to watch. The Jewish Museum also did a retrospective on Helena Rubinstein last year, which was pretty incredible. But I'm only responsible for the playwright's words. Anything after that is the research you choose to do, and if it applies to the words that are written.

Did you know much about her life or her history before you started with the show?
Not really. I knew the name. When I was putting on makeup, it was Mary Quant or Revlon, or Maybelline. People ask me what my mother wore, and I can't remember her wearing Elizabeth Arden or Helena Rubenstein. I think she wore Avon!

What are the challenges of leading a musical like War Paint at this point in your life and career?
I can't speak for Christine, but I'm up there in age. And what this birthday really represented to me was more and more limitations. I'm not 20, I'm not 30, I'm not 40, and I'm not 50. So the voice tells me about as much as I can do, and I have to be really, really judicious.

Technical rehearsals, now, seem to be longer and more arduous, more brutal, because everything is automated. I say two things: "I miss indifferent stagehands pushing scenery on and off the stage," and, "Whatever happened to four weeks in New Haven?" It's endless. It's all about the automation now, the moving parts. We have fantastic stagehands at the Nederlander who have figured out how to get it on and off of that tiny space. Everything's flown. There's no wing space. It has to get on the ground, into the tracks, and then it has to be tracked. Now, it's clockwork.

Patti LuPone as Helena Rubinstein War Paint at the Nederlander Theatre.
Patti LuPone as Helena Rubinstein War Paint at the Nederlander Theatre.
(© Joan Marcus)

The Best Actress in a Musical category is a mixture of legends like you and Christine and Bette Midler —
The old folks! The old people! [laughs]

And newcomers like Denée Benton and Eva Noblezada. What do you think about the new crop of up-and-comers?
I cannot believe the amount of talent onstage. Holy gazolie! It was Broadway's version of Cirque du Soleil, and I mean that in the best sense. The talent is extraordinary. I don't know where it comes from. The girl that's nominated from Great Comet [Benton], and the young, blond boy [Lucas Steele]? Holy sh*t. They're unbelievable. So, so talented. I hope that they always have really, really great material to showcase it, and, especially, to grow. And that they understand what they need to do to grow.

You've also got your Deconstructing Patti concert with Seth Rudetsky coming up. What can you preview about the show?
Deconstructing Patti is the prelude to the evening of Seth and me. He deconstructs most singers he does his concerts with. We tell stories. He asks me a question, and I tell a story about the song I'm going to sing.

So it's like a greatest hits concert?
[laughs] Kind of. And then there are some obscure things that show up. When we were in London, David Garlick, who was my Dodger in Oliver!, was in the audience and I brought him up to sing "I'd Do Anything for You." And he remembered it! He was 12, and now he's about 30, and he remembered "I'd Do Anything." It was so adorable. We dragged Jonathan Pryce up to sing "Fly Me to the Moon." That's the kind of thing we do.

In addition to War Paint and your Deconstructing Patti concert, any plans to reprise your role on the small screen in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend?
I hope so. I hope I come back as Rabbi Sherry. Rachel Bloom is the only one on television and film who knows how to do a musical. She's the only one that understands the rhythm and when to sing. She knows how to do it. She's so brilliant.

What's your best piece of advice for younger performers who want a career like yours?
Study. Know what you are doing. Know the history of the theater that you're in, of the craft that you are plying. Know it. Don't be like that idiot Donald Trump. Know the history and ply your craft. You want longevity? Know your craft. That's longevity. Success is longevity. That's success in this business.

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War Paint

Closed: November 5, 2017