Little She: A Review of Patti's New Memoir

NEW YORK - JUNE 15:  (L-R) Actors Boyd Gaines, Laura Benanti and Patti LuPone of 'Gypsy' perform onstage during the 62nd Annual Tony Awards held at Radio City Music Hall on June 15, 2008 in New York City.  (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
Patrick Dennis' Little Me is a brilliant mockery of that beloved literary tradition, the celebrity memoir.  It's loaded with the faux humility, grandeur, maudlin sentimentality and self delusion that make some memoirs so intriguing, addictive, and unintentionally hilarious.  And it's heroine is the dubiously talented star of stage and screen, Belle Poitrine, who clawed, back stabbed, seduced, and married her way to fame and fortune.  Of course, Belle never writes any of this down in plain speak, but it's there to read between the lines.  And once you've read it, Little Me keeps ahold you.  Now, every time I open a memoir I ask myself, "is this a book written with self awareness, humility, and candor? Or am I about to read a Belle Poitrine special?" Because if I am, I put on my "bullshit detectors" and read away.  I'm very happy to say I had my B.S.Ds close at hand when I was ready to dig in to Patti LuPone: A Memoir.

But first, a disclaimer:  I adore Patti LuPone's work as an actress and singer.  The soundtrack to Evita is amazing, largely because of her incredible vocal performance.  Her appearance in Driving Miss Daisy was a highlight in an already overwhelmingly wonderful film, and her appearances in Anything Goes, Les Miserables, and most recently, Gypsy, are legendary, and she was THE reason to watch Life Goes On.  But her controversial behavior is also legendary, and while I sympathize with a lot of the struggles she's gone through, as a narrator of her life, she is anything but reliable.

I read the first seventy pages of her life story wishing I had a more trustworthy source to reference, because it seems just a little to rosy and sunwashed in tone to be completely accurate.  But according to Patti she was just one of many hard working actors destined for the stage, who succeeded because of the guidance of her mentors, sheer determination, and a belief in herself.  And she suffered...a lot.  It seems like every instructor at Julliard was gunning for young Patti, and I'd love to hear the story behind that story, or to learn what really went down in her relationship and subsequent break-up with Kevin Kline.  But it wasn't to be found here.  Intriguing.

The juice begins on Chapter 5 "The Baker's Wife, or Hitler's Road Show" and flows through to the end.  So if you make it through to page 73, take heart, because the rest of it is worth the wait.  The Baker's Wife is a notorious Broadway flop who's song "Meadowlark" (the only thing worth remembering in an otherwise unrememarkable show) was cut by the producer for a time, as it was considered too long and was believed to slow the show, and Patti will tell you all about it.  She'll also tell you how horrible it was to work with Topol, and later, Paul Sorvino.  She'll even discuss the vocal issues she struggled with after The Baker's Wife closed and she took on the role of Evita, and the less than enthusiastic reviews she initially received for her performance before going on to win the Tony.  She'll discuss the joys of working with David Mamet, and the horrors of working with Andrew Lloyd Webber.  (Side note-  I believe almost everything she says in these chapters and frankly think she was robbed of a great role and a great opportunity.  Glenn Close was a caricature in comparison to what Patti was attempting with the part).  Of course, some of her grievances are petty and small in relation to the majority of career struggles, but it's still riveting to read them.  Her description of her experience at the 1988 Tony's is priceless..." 'And the 1988 Tony Award goes to...Joanna Gleason for Into The Woods!' I sat there and watched Joanna pick up her award.  During her acceptance speech, I felt like I was having a flashback on an acid trip.  She looked like the tin man from The Wizard of Oz.  What happened?  I was supposed to win!  It was a bad night for me."  Missing from this memoir???  Any mention of the notorious night during Gypsy when she stopped the show to berate an audience member who was taking pictures.

Over all, it's a satisfying memoir with plenty of backstage dirt that answers a lot of long pondered questions and those who love Patti will be very, very, happy.  It's also delusional enough, and vengeful enough, and high toned enough to get it an 8 out of 10 on the Belle Poitrine Scale of Greatness.