There’s an episode of Will & Grace where Jack tries to ignore Patti LuPone as she chatters, crawls around on the floor, and just generally makes herself un-ingnorable. At one point he screams “Shut up Patti LuPone! Shut your brassy, magnificent trap!!!”
She turns around and deadpans … “They either love me or they hate me.” I laughed. I laughed because I … hate her. Those are HER WORDS …
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate her personally … I just can’t stand the way she sings. I’m sure if I had to sit next to her at a gala dinner she’d be pleasant enough company. (Note to the committee planning any gala dinner party to which I am invited: Please don’t seat me next to Patti LuPone despite what I just said.)
I remember complaining to a co-worker about how I couldn’t stomach her strident braying which evaporated every drop of sensitivity that moistened the sappy I Dreamed a Dream (which, I admit, is my most favorite song from Les Miz). In fact, before I read the liner notes and found out it was her I remember complaining loudly (and often) “Whoever sings that song does that annoying Patti LuPone thing”. Leave it to Patti LuPone to do that annoying Patti LuPone thing.
Sure, she starts off making you feel all sorry for her with her plaintive “There was a time … it all went wrong.” But by the time she gets to “I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living” I’m always left clutching my ears and thinking how much less her life would be hell if she could only learn to speak softly and not FORCE every note from her “brassy trap”, in that manner that makes her sound like a senior citizen at the early bird special in Boca Raton demanding that the staff put out more croutons and Roquefort dressing in the all-you-can-eat salad bar … because they’ve run out AGAIN.
I still love the song. I still hate Patti LuPone.
This co-worker thought he would deflate me by (after my rant) declaring “Patti’s a friend of the family” (I think he delivered the line with an arched brow). Sure, I mentally stumbled a bit and the starf*cker inside me shouted “Oooooh boy! Can I meet her!!!! Can I got to a gala dinner with her!!!” But I actually stood my ground and held fast to my opinion and declared, with a toss of my head, “I still don’t like her so I don’t apologize“.
Later that year I went with this friend and some others to see Sweeney Todd in concert. The lead was sung by George Hearn (love love LOVE) and Neil Patrick Harris was there, pre-HIMYM-mania, and therefore, not the main draw. Of course Patti “couldn’t pick a worse choice for Mrs. Lovitt if you tried” LuPone was also there, pushing her voice through the notes so hard that I though she was trying to power the whole eastern seaboard with her singing alone. It almost ruined the whole experience for me except 1) I got to see George Hearn reprise the role I’d taped off of PBS when I was a teen and 2) Stephen Sondheim made a surprise appearance at the curtain call and I just about fainted and clapped so much it was as if I were trying to power the whole eastern seaboard with clapping alone. Small aside … I could never be sure but I was almost CERTAIN that one Ms. Monica (dry-cleaning-is-for-suckers … wait … I mean NOT-dry-cleaning-is-for-suckers) Lewinsky was in attendance that evening as well.
That was also the night I found out that when my co-worker said that Patti was a “friend of the family” he actually meant a “friend of a FRIEND”. And Patti was not so much a “friend of” a friend so much as a “person being stalked by” a friend. So.
When Evita came out in the late 70s the commercials were blasted at me every afternoon during Texas, a short-lived but memorable (at least to me) spin off of Another World. I watched Texas every afternoon and the Evita commercial played every afternoon and so my childhood was impressed with this image of Patti stretching out her arm and beseeching Mandy Patinkin to “not keep his distance” and braying “just a little touch of Star Quality” so unintelligibly that for years I had no idea what she was saying. The commercial fascinated me. Her voice distracted me. The whole thing disturbed me. I was hooked on hating her.
So of course you have to understand my complete dismissal of EVITA until many many years later when, in the zenith of my Madonna Worship I lived the story of her journey to play Evita on the big screen. I knew of her seven page entreaty to Alan Parker. I saw her “Take a Bow” video which was shot as such a period piece that there was no mistaking that she was auditioning for the role to the whole wide world. Of course there’s also the sub-plot … Madonna’s jump-the-gun (“I’ll probably never get married, so I might as well keep this baby since I’m not getting any younger”) pregnancy which was kept a secret from Alan Parker until there was no more denying it … leaving Mr. Parker to cleverly try and disguise her tummy with purses and a children’s chorus during the shooting.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t consider Madonna the better Evita. Or the better singer, really. Or even the more interesting personality. Not by a long shot. And while I find her softer take on Evita more palatable it is NOT a better interpretation and really only speaks to the limited range of Madonna’s acting ability which was only as good as it was because she didn’t have to speak. (This is how Holly Hunter won her best actress award for The Piano, you know.) Despite my obsession, I always saw this for what it was: Madonna wanting to be considered a credible actress and refusing to admit that that ship had sailed. To Shanghai, I think. What a surprise.
So … my vote for best Evita? It’s obvious. Elaine Paige.