What Went Wrong the First Time Patti LuPone Performed Gypsy? | Playbill

Seth Rudetsky What Went Wrong the First Time Patti LuPone Performed Gypsy? This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth takes a trip across the world to see one special play, plus the story of the Gypsy character LuPone played before Mama Rose—and what went awry.
Patti LuPone in Gypsy

Greetings from many feet in the air. I’m on a flight back to New York after a whirlwind weekend abroad. It all began a few weeks ago: James happened to be on the Playscripts website (a company that publishes and licenses plays) and noticed that Unbroken Circle, the play he wrote that ran Off-Broadway a few years ago, was playing in Ireland!

We’ve loved Ireland since a few years ago when we took a quick weekend jaunt to Dublin because we needed a few thousand miles to get us into a higher frequent flyer category. On a side note, I’ve always loved the Irish writer Maeve Binchy and read all of her books. When I was in Dublin, I mentioned how much I loved her to a few people and they all told me to take a quick train ride to her hometown and say hi. I didn’t get it. How would I see her? Did she have a day job at the train station? Nope. They all assured me I should simply go up to her house and knock on her front door. What!?!? Then, after telling me to knock on her door, they all added in that affectless Irish way “She’s gained a whole lot of weight these days. Yes! She’s quite heavy.”.
I’m not joking, by the way. The conversation was consistently
A. Knock on her door.
B. She’s fat.

Well, even for someone as brazen as I am, it seemed a little too forward. Looking back, I completely regret it because she passed away a little while later and I truly was such a huge fan.


Anyhoo, when James saw Unbroken Circle was going to be touring all over Ireland, we decided we had to see it. We planned a few delicious days in Ireland that would end with seeing Unbroken Circle in Charleville, a town around an hour away from Shannon. Well, the big fat blizzard put a damper in those plans. Our flight was canceled and suddenly every other flight filled up. I’m talking flights to Dublin, Shannon, and Belfast! Finally, we figured out we could go to Heathrow, layover for a few hours, fly to Shannon and then driven to Charleville. We did it (yes, it was exhausting) and were able to see the Saturday night performance of Unbroken Circle.


OMG! It was so good! I was told that theatre in Ireland isn’t the same as in America, referring to the fact that shows in Ireland rarely get standing ovations. But when Unbroken Circle ended in Charleville…standing ovation! I was so happy! And I purposefully sat firmly planted until everyone else was standing so I wouldn’t be seen as Charles Lowe. (If you don’t know, Charles Lowe was Carol Channing’s husband and apparently he saw every performance of Hello, Dolly! and always led the audience in a standing ovation.)


After the show, I talked to the director, Tara Ann. It seemed so arbitrary that an Irish theatre company would do a play that’s only been done in America and never televised. How did it happen? She said that she wanted to do a “family drama that had comedy but edge and that had a lot of good roles for women.” She went to the Playscripts site to investigate and found Unbroken Circle. Playscripts has a free download for theatres to read Unbroken Circle to decide if they want to do it. Well, the good news is she read it and loved it. The bad news is she was in a café without her computer so she read the whole thing on her iPhone. OW! I get a migraine thinking about the horrific eyestrain. She decided she wanted to do it but she had to get board approval. Tara was nervous that the free download was a one-day-only offer from Playscripts and didn’t know how she could get the script quickly to her board to read. So, she took screen shots with her iPhone. Yes. She took screen shots of every single page of that play! And then sent each individual page. Thankfully, it worked, they approved and it’s still playing! P.S. The free download still exists! So read it here.


Before I went to Ireland, I was in Chicago with Patti LuPone. Producer Mark Cortale snapped this fun photo of before the show, tie-fixing. We were talking about her connection with Gypsy and, turns out, she not only did it in 2008 on Broadway, but she also did it back in the ’60s as a teen. Yes, her high school theatre group called The Patio Players (because they started performing on her friend’s backyard patio) did Gypsy and she was cast as Louise. At this point in their tenure, they were allowed to use the high school auditorium. They went all out with the production and had an actual little lamb for “Little Lamb.” Patti told us that the lamb was amazing…in rehearsal. At the first performance, she reenacted what happened during her song.

PATTI: (sings) Little lamb!
LAMB: Baaaaaaaah!!!!!
PATTI: Little lamb!
LAMB: Baaaaaaaaah!

Patti said it was re-lent-less. They finally brought the lamb backstage ‘til the show ended. But they kept it in the boys bathroom and the tile made for some excellent acoustics. She remembers hearing a crazy echoy “baaaaah” throughout the entire show.

LOUISE: I’m a pretty girl, Mama.
LAMB (backstage with reverb) Baaaaaaah!

Speaking of “Little Lamb”, I’ve always treated that song as the “Henry Street” of Gypsy, meaning when I played the cast album as a kid, I’d pick the needle up, lift it over “Little Lamb” and place it firmly down on “Dainty June and her Farmboys.” I find “Little Lamb” so snoozy that I dared Billy Porter to sass it up. Turns out, he did! Find it here!

And finally, speaking of that production of Gypsy for which Patti won the Tony Award for Best Actress, I will be doing a show with the Best Featured Actress Tony award winner! Yes, Laura Benanti will be joining me in Scottsdale, Arizona this Saturday night (she’s in Chicago Sunday night doing a benefit for Chicago Theatre Workshop which happens to be putting on Disaster!. I did an Obsessed! with her where she got to show how crazily funny she is! Watch!

Now get Scottsdale tickets here!
The Laura show is sandwiched for me; Sunday night I’m doing a show with Jeremy Jordan again. This time in San Francisco. Tickets here.

Here’s a clip of him I’m posting in honor of Frozen being in previews!

And on Friday night, I’m getting three of my pals together (Mano Felciano, Rachel York and Andréa Burns) and I’m putting up a show at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. I basically wanted to do a show with tons of Broadway hit songs sung by them, and before or after each song, I tell some inside scoop Broadway tidbit to make the audience go “What!?!? Who knew!?” I’m so excited to hear all three of them sing…especially because I picked songs that show off their amazing voices/crazy ranges. Tickets here!

Let me end with a clip I just found of Rachel. This is her amazing performance in City Of Angels when she was still a teenager. OMG! So good! Enjoy and peace out!

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