Tony Award winner Patti LuPone is a venerable Broadway diva, known for the title role in the opening production of Evita and Fantine in the original London production of Les Miserables and for her star turns in Broadway revivals of Gypsy and Sweeney Todd. This week, she kicks off the Broadway at NOCCA series with two shows.
"Seth [Rudetsky] asked me to do (the NOCCA series), and I've known him for years," LuPone says. "When we did it in Provincetown (Mass.), and it was just so much fun. So here we go again. Hopefully it'll be as much fun for the audience as it is for us."
LuPone recently starred in David Mamet's Broadway flop, The Anarchist (which marked her eighth time working with the playwright), and was in town not long ago filming the thriller Parker. She appeared in the Provincetown series this summer, and in her show (available to download at www.sethtv.com) she revisited songs from Evita that she hadn't performed in years. At Rudetsky's goading, she also discussed the infamous incident in which she halted a production of Gypsy to chastise an audience member who was taking photos.
The NOCCA shows are a new iteration of the Provincetown Broadway at the Art House series produced by Mark Cortale and hosted by Rudetsky, a musician, writer and radio host. The New York-based Cortale is producing the series and was instrumental in bringing it to New Orleans, which he describes as his second home (he's the manager of homegrown drag performer Jeffrey Roberson, aka Varla Jean Merman).
Each show consists of songs interspersed with banter and interviews guided by Rudetsky, creating a casual and, at times, dishy retrospective of each singer's career.
"What I love doing is showing people the beauty and art in Broadway, and that's what this sort of is. It's kind of like my radio show (SiriusXM Radio's On Broadway), but it's live," Rudetsky says. "I love chitter-chattering about Broadway and giving people a look under the curtain. Not in a kind of boring way I feel a lot of interviews do, but in a 'we're having brunch together' way."
For her NOCCA show, LuPone's set list likely will stick to songs heard in New York's Theatre District. "I think it'll all be Broadway songs because that's kind of what Seth is obsessed with," she says.
"Some of the stars, I have to tell them in advance what the (song) order is — but with Patti, I said, 'You're going to sing what you're going to sing, so deal with it,'" he says.
Later this year, the series will bring Broadway heavyweights Sutton Foster, Megan Mullally, Audra McDonald and Betty Buckley to the performing arts school for master classes and shows that are a fusion of Inside the Actors Studio and semi-improvised cabaret.
Rudetsky, who once performed for an enthusiastic audience at Le Chat Noir, says while it's often difficult to get performers to travel for shows, the women in the NOCCA series were game to perform in the South.
"The women said yes because they're so obsessed with New Orleans," he says.
Rudestky's slate of performers is a dream team of Broadway divas: LuPone; Foster, who originated the title role in the revival of Thoroughly Modern Millie; Mullally, known for her role as Karen Walker in NBC's Will & Grace and Broadway roles including Elizabeth in Young Frankenstein; McDonald, who recently won the Best Actress Tony for her role in the revival of Porgy and Bess; and Buckley, the Broadway legend known for starring in Cats.
"I'm always like 'What would I enjoy as an audience member?' That's how I gauge it," Rudestky says. "It's never about 'What's going to sell tickets?' I'm such a big fan, so I try to think what would a super fan like me love? I try to create the show out of my own obsession."
With the exception of Foster, each will present two performances per night, and Rudestky says each of the two shows has different surprises in store.
"Not only is (the show) a unique experience, but you can see both performances and it'll be totally different," he says. "It's not like a cabaret act with set patterns and set songs. If you got tickets to both performances with the same artists, you see two different shows. It's kind of the epitome of theater in that you never know what's going to happen."
During their visit, Rudetsky and the performers in the series will teach master classes to NOCCA students. Rudestky's class will cover audition technique, and the others will focus on performing songs. The classes will include question-and-answer sessions for students. LuPone is unable to teach a master class during her visit, but she has advice for young performers.
"Train as much as possible for the profession," she says. "It isn't easy and it's a craft — both the singing of it and the acting — and one needs to train for it. One needs to hone their craft and then go out there and do it."