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In a new memoir, singer Patti LuPone writes about being on the road, in a disaster of a musical that would never make it to Broadway. The reviews were so bad the ushers sent candy backstage and took the cast out for drinks, just to cheer them up.

NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg says LuPone's book is full of miss or hit stories like that.

SUSAN STAMBERG: Loads of fans, sure. But there are people who cannot stand "Evita," Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1979 musical about Argentina's Eva Peron. In fact, the star of that show didn't like the score very much. But the show - that score - made Patti LuPone a star.

(Soundbite of song, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina")

Ms. PATTI LUPONE (Actress/Singer): (Singing) Don't cry for me Argentina. The truth is I never left you. All through my wild days...

Ms. LUPONE: This score is so difficult to sing.

STAMBERG: LuPone says "Evita" is a voice-buster for every woman who performs her.

Ms. LUPONE: There's a couple of notes that are not as strong as your top notes or your bottom notes, and thats exactly where the score sits.

STAMBERG: She didn't have the training, the technique, to sing "Evita," without stressing her vocal cords. Five days before the L.A. opening, she lost her voice. A doctor's treatment helped her open, but LuPone's voice went out again the next day. She got a new coach. The show went to Broadway, but her singing had to have guts and power, and that was never easy.

Ms. LUPONE: I was always in danger, from the first D, which was 20 minutes into the show.

STAMBERG: Well, what you write is: If I didn't hit the first D correctly, it affected the rest of the night, which affected the rest of the week.

Ms. LUPONE: Yup.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LUPONE: Ow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: We were taping at 10:00 a.m. Cruelly, I asked her to demonstrate.

Ms. LUPONE: (Singing) It was my father though the family was middle class. Screw the middle-classes. I will never accept them and they will never deny me anything again. My father's other family...

(Speaking) So it's D's up to a G.

(Singing) Screw the middle-classes. I will never accept them and they will never deny me anything again. My father's other family were middle-class...

STAMBERG: Patti LuPone got through "Evita" - 19 months on Broadway, the Tony Award - by keeping silent, except when she was performing. Six shows a week. That's a lot of silence. No social life. For fun, she went, silently, to Rangers' hockey games on Sunday nights. And all wound up after a performance walked alone over to the oyster bar at the Plaza.

Ms. LUPONE: And I'd go to the back end. There was a Jamaican bartender that would always acknowledge me whenever I went. And I'd watch the hookers come into the bar looking for customers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LUPONE: And I'd have two beers. And when I was sufficiently buzzed I would go home.

STAMBERG: The glamorous life of a Broadway star.

(Soundbite of music)

STAMBERG: In 2008 - after more ups, downs, firings, raves, some movies and TV - Patti LuPone was back on Broadway in a revival of "Gypsy," a musical about stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. LuPone played the ultimate stage mother, Rose, with a huge dramatic solo.

(Soundbite of play, "Gypsy")

Ms. LUPONE: (as Rose) Here she is, boys. Here she is, world. Here's Rose.

(Singing) Curtains up, light the lights. Play it, boys...

STAMBERG: Now, I want to play something for you. A friend took her 12-year-old to see you. You know, at that age - 12, 13 - you don't want to be anywhere near your own mother. You dont want to touch your mother. You dont want to have your mother touch you. You begin to sing "Rose's Turn."

(Soundbite of song, "Rose's Turn)

Ms. LUPONE: (as Rose) (Singing) Some people got it and make it pay. Some people can't even give it away. This people's got it and this people's spreading it around. You either have it. Or you've had it...

STAMBERG: And just listen to what happened with my friend and her daughter.

Ms. NEVA GRANT (Radio Producer): And she's just hitting kind of the absolute climax of the song.

STAMBERG: This is radio producer Neva Grant.

Ms. GRANT: And suddenly, just instinctively, my daughter reaches out and she just grabs my hand like this, as if we're on a rollercoaster. She's grabbing my wrist like, oh my God.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LUPONE: Ohhh. Ohh, thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: She just said they were transported. And isnt that the goal? I mean...

Ms. LUPONE: Yes, I was just going to say you hope that as an actor, I mean the job is to move, to change, to transport. And it doesnt always happen. And when it does, you're just grateful, you know, that you accomplished the task. And I thank you. I'm crying back here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Meadowlark")

Ms. LUPONE: (Singing) And sing for me, my meadowlark...

STAMBERG: Nothing has ever come easy for me, Patti LuPone writes, about the arguments and stresses of her long career. But she always manages to get something good from the bad. Remember that disastrous show with the ushers and the candy? The show, it was called "The Bakers Wife," never made it, but it gave Patti LuPone this, her signature song.

(Soundbite of song, "Meadowlark")

Ms. LUPONE: (Singing) And fly with me, my meadowlark. Fly with me on the silver morning...

STAMBERG: I want to talk to you about your reputation, because you've been called diva. You've been called difficult. You have worked like a dog all your life, but it sounds as if you are something of a piece of work too.

Ms. LUPONE: Yeah, I would say that - here, let me say(ph) - I was trained at Julliard. I have a very high standard. I expect everybody around me to work equally as work hard, because people pay a lot of money for tickets. They demand the best that we have.

(Soundbite of music)

STAMBERG: The audience is crucial for Patti LuPone. Peeking out from behind the curtain, she always watches them arrive before the show begins.

Ms. LUPONE: I do it because I'm about to tell them the story. So it's important for me to see who I'm telling the story to, before I make an entrance onstage.

STAMBERG: Maybe when the show she's working on now - a musical version of the film "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" - starts previews in October, from backstage, or through a peephole in the curtain, Patti LuPone will see a daughter, leaning a little away from her mother until a big moment comes and the girl just hangs on for dear life.

(Soundbite of song, "Meadowlark")

Ms. LUPONE: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

STAMBERG: I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

INSKEEP: Patti LuPone does more singing at NPR.org.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And Im Linda Wertheimer.

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