MINNEAPOLIS — Broadway legend Patti LuPone would like to clear up a few things.
It’s true that, as widely reported, she left Actors’ Equity, the union of professional performers, last fall.
“I don’t need to be in Equity because I don’t use their services and I don’t think it’s a very good union,” LuPone said by phone from her New York home last week.
She’s also frustrated with the type of shows making it to Broadway these days, describing the work as unadventurous and stale. The entertainment district, she said, is now a cross between Disneyland, Las Vegas and a circus.
“It’s in transition and I don’t know what direction it’s going in,” she said.
But one thing she’s not doing is quitting the stage. In fact, she will be performing her solo show, “Patti LuPone: Don’t Monkey With Broadway,” at St. Paul’s Ordway just as the Broadway tour of “Company,” a show in which she left an indelible imprint as a brassy wife and for which she won one of her three Tonys, is concluding its engagement across the river in Minneapolis at the Orpheum Theatre.
“I’m done with Broadway but I’m not giving up on theater,” said the 74-year-old LuPone.
Over a 50-year stage career, she has defined and redefined some of the most iconic characters in the musical theater canon. LuPone won a Tony for her balcony-waving Evita, and another for her volcanic Mama Rose in “Gypsy.”
The “Company” win was for depicting acerbic socialite Joanne (a role that’s being played on the national tour by Judy McLane). It was her second time doing it. The first was in concert with the New York Philharmonic and Neil Patrick Harris. She said that composer Stephen Sondheim was surprised by her facility and deep understanding of the part that Elaine Stritch first played on Broadway in 1970.
But Sondheim may also have mistaken her background for her talent. LuPone is of Sicilian heritage from Long Island. Joanne is a hard drinker from leisure-class Manhattan.
“I remember the first time I sang ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ for Steve, which had nothing to do with ‘Company,’ and he was surprised I understood it so well,” LuPone said. “I don’t come from the Upper East Side. But I have a degree in acting, thank you very much.”
She injected brassy wit and humor into Joanne, making the role more complicated and fun.
“I love to make an audience laugh, and I was allowed to do that with Joanne,” LuPone said. “You see her pain but you don’t play that.”
In the new touring “Company,” which runs Nov. 14-19 at the Orpheum, the musical comedy is reimagined. While it’s still about love and relationships, the lead character changes from bachelor Bobby to a 35-year-old female Bobbie, whose biological clock is ticking.
In the mid-1990s, LuPone lost her voice for a month. It was a scary experience that she initially feared would end her career. But instead she gained valuable knowledge which she has trumpeted to help the field.
“Something happened that happens to women that most opera singers are aware of but most Broadway singers don’t know,” LuPone said. “When women are mid-cycle, their blood vessels are engorged. The body puts itself in a pre-pregnancy mode. And I would sing and burst a blood vessel in my left vocal cord. And the muscles are tiny. I thought I was just singing too hard. And so I had a surgery in 1995 and cauterized.”
LuPone’s Ordway concert on Nov. 19 will feature her most famous numbers, including “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from “Evita” and “Meadowlark” from “The Baker’s Wife.”
For Broadway, LuPone said, “people are going to see what they know as opposed to being challenged.” But she’s a beneficiary of that, as well. Audiences want to see her sing their old favorites.
“I’m lucky that whatever I did made an impression,” she said.
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