On March 31st, at the Bram Goldsmith Theater in the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Patti LuPone, two-time winner of both the Grammy and Tony Awards, showed a very different side of herself to a near-capacity audience.
LuPone, a young and vivacious (almost) 67 years of age, is regarded as Broadway royalty – a stalwart with uncanny longevity – who has now performed in five decades going on six. On this night, though, she was not a performer, at least not one in the conventional sense, who has earned commercial and critical acclaim for “Anything Goes,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Gypsy,” and more.
LuPone, who was dressed exquisitely, with stylish boots in tow, had her professorial eyeglasses on, as she sat in the audience, microphone in hand. The living legend was transformed into an invaluable teacher, educator, and conveyor of precious stage knowledge – the beneficiaries of which were five lucky students, four females and one male.
With the help of a piano accompanist on hand, these students sang musical showtunes, one by one, without the amplification of a microphone. For LuPone, the over-reliance on the microphone for particularly young singers has always been troubling. For instance, how could a singer learn the possibilities of his or her voice if there is the crutch of amplification? The ability to “sing out,” or to be able to fill an auditorium with the human voice, stripped down to its purest but most resounding tone, is a learned skill.
LuPone also believes that singers should parse each lyric of a song and be cognizant of the varying emotions that a piece can evoke to the extent that the vocalizations and physical expressions are pinpoint precise. More so than that, though, is that less can be more, and singing in a lower (or better) key can bring more to the presentation than carrying out the compulsion for higher notes.
Additionally, aspiring professionals need to take their egos out of the equation so that they can understand their voice – its possibilities, but also its limitations. The absence of objectivity can lead to not only singing in the wrong key, but, more so, excessively internalizing a song as it is being sung.
When this happens, a disconnect between performer and audience is formed. Usually, as LuPone suggests, if a performer is crying while singing and the audience is, too, then that is a good thing. If a performer is not crying, but the audience is, then that is still a welcome outcome. However, if the performer is crying, but the audience isn’t, then the performer has failed to connect with the crowd.
Consequently, this wise and insightful analogy by LuPone revolves around her one and only requirement for a performer, which is the ability to resonate with and impact an audience. For her it is, and will continue to be, the most important criterion for success in the musical-theater sphere.
For more information about upcoming shows at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, please visit THEWALLIS.ORG