Theater diva Patti LuPone is back on Broadway in “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” a musical adaptation of Pedro Almodovar‘s 1988 Spanish-language film. While the show, which opened Thursday, met with critical indifference, the two-time Tony winner was singled out for praise.
This is the first time LuPone has originated a role in a Broadway musical since “Evita” more than three decades ago; and what a plum part it is. Patti plays Lucia, an unstable woman recently released from a mental institution, who searches for her philandering husband. Julieta Serrano received a Goya nomination for originating the role on film.
LuPone would contend in the Featured Actress race at the Tonys. That was where she first got a taste of theaterdom’s top kudos. Back in 1976, she was nominated for her work in “The Robber Bridegroom.” She lost that race to Kelly Bishop (“A Chorus Line”).
However, four years later LuPone was wowing audiences and critics alike with her bravura portrayal of Eva Peron in “Evita.” She triumphed at the Tonys, taking home the Lead Actress award. But she would have to wait almost three decades to get a matching bookend.
She lost Lead Musical Actress bids in 1988 for a revival of “Anything Goes” — Joanna Gleason won for “Into the Woods” — and in 2006 for a revival of “Sweeney Todd” — LaChanze prevailed for “The Color Purple.” In between those two star turns, LuPone was denied the chance to recreate a role on Broadway that she originated in London, that of Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard.” Instead, Glenn Close — who had appeared to great acclaim in the L.A. edition of the tuner — got the Gotham gig and went on to win the Lead Musical Actress race in 1995.
LuPone had to wait till 2008 to get her second Tony when she finally convinced show creator Arthur Laurents that she could do justice to the inconic role of Mama Rose in “Gypsy.” All four of the women who had headlined previous incarnations of this seminal musical had contended at the Tony Awards. Originator Ethel Merman lost to Mary Martin (“The Sound of Music”) in 1960. Angela Lansbury and Tyne Daly prevailed for the 1975 and 1990 revivals respectively. Broadway baby Bernadette Peters battled bad press in 2003 and lost to “Hairspray” ingenue Marissa Jaret Winokur.
Photo: Patti LuPone in “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (Belasco Theater)