Arts·Q with Tom Power

'Every night I went on stage in terror': Patti LuPone recalls being tested by Evita

The Broadway legend's performance in Evita brought her massive acclaim and her first Tony Award, but she struggled to hit the high notes night after night.

Though she won a Tony for her performance, the Broadway legend struggled to hit the high notes

Head shot of Patti LuPone.
‘I knew that if I survived this, I could survive anything,’ LuPone says about her time starring in the hit Broadway musical Evita. (Axel Dupeux)

Patti LuPone's decades-long love affair with performing started young.

"I started tap dancing at four years old," the Broadway legend tells Q's Tom Power in an interview. "I fell in love with the audience and I never looked back. Basically, it chose me. And in choosing me, it opened up every possible door. You know, I wasn't intimidated to sing, or act crazy, or make people laugh, or dance because it chose me….

"I was born with these lungs and this voice that doesn't quit. Considering the abuse I've put my voice through in the course of my lifetime, it's as good as it's ever been and I couldn't tell you why."

LuPone was only 10 when she landed her first musical role in Gilbert and Sullivan's opera The Mikado. In 1980, she earned her first Tony Award for playing Eva Perón, the former first lady of Argentina, in the original Broadway production of Evita by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

And though she's never been intimidated by the stage, Lupone says she was tested by Evita, describing the experience as "trial by fire." Her performance brought her massive acclaim, but she struggled to hit the high notes night after night.

When I first heard the score to Evita, I thought Andrew Lloyd Webber hated women.- Patty LuPone

 

"It's horrible," she tells Power. "When I first heard the score to Evita, I thought Andrew Lloyd Webber hated women because the score's written in a soprano's passaggio. If you think of a rubber band and you pull a rubber band, the weakest spot is in the middle. That's a passaggio. You have a chest voice and a head voice, and then right in the middle is where you have to negotiate changing gears and all of the high notes are written in that break.

"Also, if you want to play the role with accuracy and passion, it can't be lyric…. [Eva Perón is] like Sarah Palin or Marjorie Taylor Greene — you either like that voice or you just want to kill them because the voice is so piercing…. So you have to imbue that music with that energy and that tone. And that was the danger. That was the danger because I blew out my voice so many times."

WATCH | LuPone performing Buenos Aires from Evita:

Determined not to fail, LuPone recognized that Evita was her "big test" and she needed to push through her fear.

"The fact that I willed my voice every single night to hit those notes and I didn't do more damage to my voice is shocking," she says.

"The role itself is pretty spectacular. I had a blast acting it — I couldn't sing it. And every night I went on stage in terror, absolute terror. That's not good for the soul. It's not good for the head. It's not good for anything. But I knew it was my test. I knew that if I survived this, I could survive anything."

WATCH | LuPone's interview with Tom Power:

The full interview with Patti LuPone is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. She also talks about originating the role of Fantine in Les Misérables, working with revered composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and the state of Broadway today. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


Interview with Patti LuPone produced by Vanessa Nigro.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vivian Rashotte is a digital producer, writer and photographer for Q with Tom Power. She's also a visual artist. You can reach her at vivian.rashotte@cbc.ca.

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