A ‘Sunset’ Without LuPone Is Dark Day for Theater
Isn’t anyone going to speak up for the great Patti LuPone?
I’ve been waiting in vain for people in the entertainment business to protest her public humiliation: She has been unceremoniously dropped from the coming New York production of “Sunset Boulevard,” which instead will feature Glenn Close, now the star of the L.A. version.
I am a fanatical theater-goer and can count on my fingers the few really great musical theater performances that have been available to someone who has come of age in the 1980s. Not since Jennifer Holliday got people to stand on their seats in “Dreamgirls” have I witnessed the excitement that Patti LuPone created at London’s Adelphi Theatre in “Sunset Boulevard.” It is a crime that audiences who love the theater as much as I do will be robbed of seeing LuPone’s truly great musical theater performance.
I was in agreement with the London critics when they reported that LuPone’s brilliance had overshadowed composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s mediocrity. It reminded me of the reviews I’d read of Barbra Streisand in Jule Styne’s star vehicle “Funny Girl.”
I was quite astonished when the New York critics descended on London and violently disagreed with their British colleagues. They ripped LuPone’s performance to shreds after she’d already been hailed as a shining example of the best that Broadway has to offer. According to the New York critics: “LuPone was too young.” Not on stage. “LuPone was too strident.” Not nearly as strident as the prototype for her role, Gloria Swanson, was in the film.
Patti LuPone broke my heart and thrilled me with her voice. Glenn Close is a gifted and glamorous actress, but her singing at the Shubert Theatre did not excite me. This is not Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” where the music has been tailored for an actress who sings. What is this trend in the musical theater to cast actress-singers in great musical roles that are better suited for singer-actresses? Tyne Daly’s “singing” in “Gypsy” is on CD for posterity while Lainie Kazan’s brilliant Westbury Music Fair performance as Mama Rose is just a memory.
Andrew Lloyd Webber has made his name in the theater. Patti LuPone is a star who is primarily known for her theater work. When are the power people in the theater like Lloyd Webber going to respect their own enough to stop kowtowing to the snobbism that is reserved for television and film stars? Not giving LuPone the role on Broadway is the most shocking mistake since Ethel Merman was not allowed to re-create her performance in “Gypsy” on film.
The complaint used to be that Broadway stars were losing their stage roles to Hollywood stars when film versions were made. Now they lose their stage roles too.
The theater has gotten even crueler. One day, LuPone may say, “We had voices then.”