Patti LuPone

Women's Impact Report: Legends & Ingenues

Mama Rose is often cited as the King Lear of roles for musical-theater actresses. At first glance, Patti LuPone, who just won a Tony — her second — for essaying the “Gypsy” lead, isn’t quite sure about the King and the Mama comparison.

“I don’t know. It might be Medea,” says the actress. “Doesn’t Medea kill her kids? I’ve seen ‘Medea.’ I think I’ve seen ‘Lear,’ but I don’t know. What kind of problems did he have with his daughters?”

Granted Mama Rose, Medea and Lear all have major headaches with their kids. But family squabbles aside, the Mama Rose/Lear equation has always been one of stamina. Isn’t Mama Rose the most physically, vocally and emotionally demanding of all the femme leads in the tuner canon?

“Oh!” replies LuPone, rethinking the question. “… I couldn’t have played Mama Rose any sooner in my career. The toughest roles are when you’re not ready for (them). This isn’t tough for me, it is exhilarating. It’s a marathon. It’s about energy and breath, but that’s it.”

Spoken like a true diva.

Actually, the toughest role was the one that won LuPone her other Tony, playing Eva Peron in 1979. ” ‘Evita’ called on every ounce of my blood,” she says. “I wasn’t ready for it. The hardest roles are the ones where you don’t have all the information.”

The “Gypsy” revival is LuPone’s 21st Broadway credit, and for someone who’s primarily known as a musical-comedy star, it’s surprising how many plays grace her Rialto resume: “The Three Sisters,” “Master Class,” “Noises Off,” etc. “I love plays!” she announces. “I don’t have a preference.” And yet, when it comes to the roles she would most like to essay in the future, she mentions Desiree in “A Little Night Music” and Fosca in “Passion.”

Maybe that’s because she’s a glutton for challenges. Both shows are by Stephen Sondheim, and it’s her 2005 Broadway turn in his “Sweeney Todd” that marked, together with “Evita” and “Gypsy,” a career highpoint. “Singing ‘More Hot Pies,’ ” she remarks. “I still haven’t done it right.”

Spoken like a true artist.

Role model: Bette Davis

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